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Assalamu Alaykum !

Portal to a plain Recital

a critical approach to religion & mysticism
the reception, composition & redaction of the Koran &
a vertical approach of spirituality

©  Wim van den Dungen

"Our messengers came to Abraham with good news. They said : 'Peace !'
'Peace !' he answered. And he waited not long before he brought a roasted calf."
Koran : 11:72

"The servants of the All-Merciful are those who walk on the earth
with modesty and who, when the ignorant address them, say : 'Peace !'"

Koran : 25:64

"Those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, 
shall be admitted into gardens underneath which rivers flow, 
therein dwelling forever, by the leave of ALLAH. 
They shall be greeted there by this word : 'Peace !'"
Koran : 14:28


The critical approach
in religion & mystical experience.

1.1 The importance of critical philosophy.
1.2 Major differences between religion, religious experience and mysticism.
1.3 Religion & criticism : a few historical remarks ...
1.4 The challenge of comparative mysticism.
1.5 The ontological illusions of the religions.
1.6 Main areas of critical study of the religions.
1.7 The criticism of Islam ?
§ 1 the redactions of the Koran.
§ 2 The absence of a redaction ordered by Muhammad. 
§ 3 The originality of the contents of the Koran.
§ 4 And what after Muhammad died ? 
§ 5 The rise of orthodoxy ... 

2 The authenticity of the Koran :
intra- and extra-textual evidence.

2.1 The intra-textual evidence :
the guarded tablet, the transmission of sense, the abrogated and Satanic verses,
the limitations of the recipient, the variations and the Arabic tongue.

§ 1 The guarded tablet versus the revealed copy.
§ 2 The guarded tablet and the celestial library.
§ 3 Transmission of the sense only.
§ 4 Abrogation of verses and the Satanic revelations.
§ 5 Muhammad's limitations, the lost texts and interpolation.
§ 6 The variations.
§ 7 A recitation in Arab.

2.2 The extra-textual evidence :
the verses, sûra's, pre-amble, mysterious letters, the bismala.

§ 1 The verse : a set of revealed signs.
§ 2 The sûra : a chapter of revealed themes.
§ 3 The isolated letters : original divisions.
§ 4 The preamble : introducting a chapter.
§ 5 The "bismala".


3 The 12 hermeneutical levels of a Koranic critique of Islam.
4 The vertical approach of the "fact of spirituality".

4.1 Some general considerations.
4.2 The case of Islam.
4.3 The spiritual message of the Koran.

5 A few characteristics of ritual, liturgical recitation.
6 Elements of the arabesque.

Final Remarks

The Opening & the Cow


This essay serves to introduce an English redaction of the Koran, of which the first two chapters (The Opening & The Cow) are published on the internet. 

The intention to move towards a plain English redaction of the Koran (or Qur'ân), the recital of Islam, came with the discovery of different original Arab redactions of the Koran, as well as various translations of the canonical Arab text. Sound translations in Dutch, English & French evidenced various possible "approaches", whereas in Sufism, the great mystics of Islam made use of the "roots" of the Arab words of the Koran to justify their theologies & mystical philosophies (their champion in this being Ibn'Arabî). Moreover, for a number of "key problems" there is -as usual- no other way left than to decide on the basis of the original language of the text.

Everytime a problem was encountered which demanded the command of Arab (both linguistically & intuitively), native speakers were called upon. A plain redaction on the basis of different translations in English, French & Dutch could thus continue and be completed. The outcome of this is therefore a redaction rather than a new translation of the Koran. For is the Book translatable ? 

Clear semantics, a fluent style, the identity of the author and a critical reading were important general hermeneutical guidelines.

  • clear semantics : a lot of translations prefer complex sentences and a complicated choice of words, while maintaining the "Thee" and "Thy"-forms of the biblical tradition. This obstacle had to be removed if a plain text had to be the outcome ;

  • a fluent style : when it was discovered that a plain English text could be arrived at, no trouble was avoided to make sure that the overall style remained simple and straightforward ;

  • identity of the author : besides focusing on the meaning of the text we must try, by means of the text, to catch a glimps of the identity of the Author of the Book. It is inevitable that every book contains traces of the psychology & philosophy of its author. This is also the case with the Koran, a book in which ALLAH is speaking in 113 of the 114 chapters. To remember the Author of the Koran is the most challenging, interesting & rewarding feature of this work ;

  • critical reading : let us distinguish between three kinds of signs : 
    (a) in green : the essence of the Recital, considered transhistorical, like all spiritual themes, stories and verses touching upon the unity of the Divine as well as these elements which constitute the particular form of Islam worship (like the direction of the Ka'ba, the food laws, the fast, the pilgrimage, etc.)
    (b) in orange : containing elements which need to be reinterpreted in the light of historical circumstances, like the laws for slaves and by extension all legal matters ;
    (c) in red : conflicting with the universal declaration on human rights and possibly interpolated and/or purely historical & circumstancial, like severing the limbs of thieves, whipping adultors, beating women, placing woman a degree below men.

My study of Middle Egyptian enabled me to understand the functional role of an unvoweled consonantal system, as well as appreciate certain grammatical features which Egyptian has in common with Arabic : the absence of the verb "is", some of its verb & noun roots, its pronouns, two genders with the feminine marked by the ending -t, the system of number and the endings used to denote plural & dual, the presence of the stative as well as the important aspectual distinction between "perfective" (state) and "imperfective" (action) forms.

Egyptian verbforms recorded two aspects : the perfective singleness (momentariness) of state or the imperfective continuity of action, once considered to be fundamental (cf. the outdated verbal system of Sethe & Gardiner). Particular forms to indicate past and future time existed. However, as in Arabic, Dutch, German and French, Middle Egyptian had a "static" verb form, expressing a state of being and the result of a completed action. In English, the past participle of most intransitive verbs can be used instead, but this always expresses an action, never a state. Hence, English has no stative. The French sentence : "Le soleil est paru." can easily be translated into Dutch ("De zon is verschenen.") or German ("Die Sonne ist erschienen."). In English, it has to be rendered as "The sun has appeared.", for "The sun is appeared." makes no sense.

Egyptian belongs to the Afro-Semitic languages such as Arabic, Ethiopic, Hebrew & Hamitic -North African- languages such as Berber and Cushitic. With the discovery of the bones of the free Egyptians who had built the Great Pyramids (to erect, ca.2500 BCE, the pyramid of Khufu, ca.20.000 workers had been placed in rotation for 20 years) and the comparison of its ancient DNA with that of contemporary Egyptians, geneticians could prove a direct ancestral relationship between the Ancient Egyptian builders and their Arab speaking off-spring (although ca.4500 years stands between them). 

In previous studies of Ancient Egyptian spirituality (cf. the theology of Memphis, the Aten of Akhenaten, the constitution of man and To Become a Magician) a distinction was made between the mythical, pre-rational & proto-rational stages of cognition (Piaget) and their co-relative presence in the genesis of Ancient Egyptian language and its "magical" (power).

In her recent publication, Sagesse Sémitique : de l'Égypte ancienne à l'Islam (1998), the French egyptologist Claire Lalouette tried to define the broad "Semitical" horizon on which the images of the ancient Middle-East dawned to enlighten the heart of both Ancient Egyptian, Judaic, Christian & Islamic spirituality.

The re-assimilation of Ancient Egyptian civilization also allows African civilization to be part of the total picture of a possible multi- and meta-cultural model on human spirituality. This allows for a more refined understanding of the two major historical events of Mediterranean Antiquity : Greek rationality and the birth of Jesus, "the Christ" :

  • With Greek rationality, proto-rationality was superseded, i.e. the concrete particularism and/or geo-sentimentalities and their patronizing influence on cognition were eliminated by abstraction and stable concepts used in a formal scheme. The Greek temples were finished constructions, whereas the Egyptian ones were always open to allow context & concrete eventualities to demolish, add or reconstruct structures. The Greeks liberated the mind by linearizing it. 

  • The teachings of Jesus "Christ" introduced the principle of one's personal conscience in the face of God. Everybody could be forgiven & saved. Everybody could be damned. To each human his choice.

In Ancient Egypt, the theological realization of the Great One with many forms came with the New Kingdom, although the mythical and pre-rational forms of the "Great One" were attested in the Old Kingdom and continue to play a role throughout Egypt's long history. Ramesside theologians invented the idea of a "divine trinity", which returned in its rational form in neo-Platonism (or substance by itself, in relation & as returning).

The various forms of this "hidden" "King of the gods" called "Amun") were his outer manifestations or epiphanies and first among these was the creator-god Re, visible to us as the sun (hence, "Amun-Re"). They are the gods & goddesses of creation. Only in Amarna theology (under the reign of the heretical king Akhenaten), was Egypt briefly forced to accept that the "Aten" (the physical light of the sun) was the sole god and that Akhenaten was his only prophet. The experience was repressed but is, thanks to the climate of Egypt, a fact of history (whereas Moses is completely of memory).

In Genesis, the theology of Akhenaten was perfected with great success by excluding all imagery of the Divine (cf. next to the inevitable pictorial features of Ancient Egyptian culture, Akhenaten's theology had made ample use of "light", "disk of the sun", "rays as live-giving arms" etc to explain his concept of the One). The Hebrew "name" of the "Great One Alone" was "YHVH ALHYM" (or : "Yahweh Elohîm"). "YHVH" referred to the "hidden" Essence (or Face) of God, whereas "Elohîm" was a plural to indicate the Divine Names or Existences of God. In the Greek translation (the Alexandrian Septuagint), "Elohîm" was replaced by "Theos" or "God" (i.e. a plural by a singular), eclipsing the modi operandi of Divine Presence !

In Greek rationality, the Supreme Being was the object of philosophical discourses. The ultimate idea in Platonism, the unmoved mover for Aristotle ... This Ultimate Being or "first cause" was understood to be identical with the material world (as in Stoicism, allowing for a "logos" of a subtle material nature) or transcending the order of being (as in Platonism & neo-Platonism). These philosophical conceptions did not offer redemption & salvation. For Plotinus, liberation was understood as the outcome of a purification of the soul, a return to its original state. The soul was able to do this unaided. Although helped & guided, nobody could and should take away that which prevented the soul from reuniting with the One. Contrary to the Semitical theologies, Greek mysticism needed no salvic archetype (as was Pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the Messias in Israel). This intellectual approach (cf. Plotinus), was clearly for an elite and did not attempt to understand the devotional difficulties & barriers encountered by ordinary people who trusted in the national deities of Greece or Rome. 

In Ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome, the deities were the occupation of only 10% of the population. Popular devotion existed, but could not compete with state religion, on the contrary, it was at work at its periphery. And so the rich and powerful could more easily win the favor of the deities. In Q1 however, the historical Jesus only speaks of the merciful "Father" and teaches utter simplicity, renunciation of the world, charity & unconditional trust in His love. He reduced the complex Hebrew law to a few precepts :  the love of God and the love of the other as your own self. In Paulinian Christianity, everybody  was called to be baptized & reborn "in Christ" (also uncircumcized males and criminals). Jesus "Christ" liberated the soul irrespective of anything the bodily passions and the ruses of the mind might have done or do. After the "Deus ex machina" of baptism, the old world was eliminated, for the kingdom of Elohîm had come to light in one's most inner chambers of intimate consciousness (that's why later Constantine was baptized just before he died !) ...

Around the time Jesus was born, the ancient gods and goddesses seemed to have become powerless and philosophical discourses were unable to put the soul at ease (quite on the contrary). The spiritual vacuum of the time being an indication that an epoch had ended. With the rapid rise of an organized Christianity (late 3th century), the institutional phase of Christianity (initiated by First Clement) was consolidated by Constantine as Roman Catholicism (making the actual Catholic & Pontifical Church the last imperial order on earth).

As Early Christianity indicates, Jesus was a Jew who founded a Jewish sect (and there were many around). Among the Jews, Messianic expectations ran high, for Hellenized Judaism under Roman occupation failed to satisfy the Semitical vision of the "golden age". The first followers of Jesus (the embryonic social formation of original folk witnessing Jesus at work) were Jews interested in his teachings. They must have been much impressed by his spiritual force and charisma, often forgotten by those intellectuals who, two millenia later, never experience spiritual states and/or never witness the charisma of mystics and those humans adept to be truly themselves, called "saints", "guru's", or "masters" etc. To them, Jesus was the Messiah. They composed Q and the various stories told about Jesus. Paul, who never witnessed Jesus while he was alive, universalized Jesus and transformed the adjectival use of the word "Christ" (by the original Jewish Christians, as in "Jesus, the Christ") into a nominal one : Christians are told that they are "in" Christ, or belong to the mystical body "of" Christ. If Jesus "Christ" was the Messiah of Israel, then Judaism ended were Christianity began.

Christianity had answered the call of late Hellenistic astral millenarianism (and Jewish Messianism) and it had successfully superceded the boundaries of race, gender & nationality. It was a "universal" religion of the One Supreme Being and would subsequently try to use rational thought to justify its claims (early Christian philosophy till Thomas of Aquinas). However, ironically, early Christian churches were fundamentally divided regarding the nature of Christ, both onto-theologically (Where does Christ stand in the salvic model ?) as well as anthropologically (What is the nature of Christ ?). Also Christ's miraculous presence in the holy host remained a crucial matter of debate, for East (Constantinopel) and West (Rome) differed regarding the precise moment this miracle actually happened during Mass (and thus had conflicting liturgical practices concerning an essential spiritual enactment, namely the true & continuous Presence of Christ during Holy Mass !). These scandalous division of Christianity fixated the dogmatic attitudes and many "consensual" Christ-models saw the light (of which, in both churches, a lot were condemned as heresies).

How can the religion of the "One Being" remain justified, if inner conflicts divide it ? It can not. Hence, around the time of Constantine, Christianity became divided (in accord with its neo-Platonic schemes) in clergic (active) and monastic (contemplative). Is it surprising that the Christian monastic tradition was initiated in the South of Egypt ? Or that those who started it, had enough of the administrative centrism of Rome and Constantinople ? Of course, monasticism had to follow the rules of the bishops, patriarchs & popes. Hence, the early monastics (and later the mystical monastics) were not trusted (for heresy and non-centrist "gnostic" -read : prophetic- uprisings had to be avoided - cf. the 5the century Nag Hammadi hiding). The "monastic rules" and the "walls of Pachomius" were indeed invented to keep the monks within certain centrist parameters. But these were apparently broad enough to allow genuine Christian spirituality to blossom and so let us affirm that the purest expression of Christianity is found in monasticism. For it is close to the true life of its founder, the laconical wisdom-teacher who taught Q1.

The Christians who, in the 6th century, spoke with prophet Muhammad, peace be with him, were probably not Roman Catholics. But it is likely that they spoke about them. Scholars found spurious data of so-called heretical sects, like the Christian Gnostics of Basilides and the Marcionites. We also know that Muhammad had a Coptic handmaiden called Mary (Coptic was the last phase of Ancient Egyptian).
So it is also likely that the prophet of Islam was aware of the schisms and conflicting views within the Jewish faith and had knowledge of Zoroastrism.

Marcion, who founded his own church, was excommunicated by the church of Rome in 144 CE. He had reinterpreted the gospels, did not accept the writings of the apostles and claimed that they had misunderstood Jesus (apparently Marcion was right). In his teachings, he eliminating the physical body of Jesus (early docetism). Monophysite theories must also have circulated. In these teachings, Jesus had another kind of physical body than ordinary people, i.e. he was primarily Divine and not human as other humans. The Christian gnostic elaborated all kinds of fantastic notions about Jesus and maintained that an evil deity had created the universe, not the merciful Heavenly Father of Jesus "Christ". 

These various schisms within early Christianity were answered by Muhammad's fundamental teaching (in accordance with the Koran) that ALLAH has no second. The Philonic "logos as second God"-model (rooted in Ancient Egyptian filiation between Pharaoh and the creator-god Re and Jewish reverence for the Messiah) was radically rejected. The monophysite model (Jesus is only Divine) as well as the Nicene "son of God"-model were discarded as the most serious basphemies ever ! If a monophysite model was used, then in it, Jesus was a human like us all.

For how could ALLAH have a second and be the One Being ? Either ALLAH is ALL or He is not ALLAH. If there would be a place for the "son of God" to be really this son, then the absolute would somehow be limited by this filial reality. As ALLAH is absolute and unlimited there can really be no "son of God". Ergo, to claim that there is a "son of God" is to deny the absolute His Absoluteness. What can be worse ? 

When Islam started to conquer foreign nations, it usually considered those who adhered to any of the "false" ideas about Jesus "Christ" as its enemies. For the Koran contains many signs dedicated to Jesus, a prophet gifted with the spirit of holiness, and who is called "the word" (i.e. "logos"). This adjectival use of "logos" being in harmony with how first century Jewish Christians had seen Jesus, namely as "the Messiah". For them, the name "Jesus" was powerful (in Hebrew, this name "splits" the secret Name of God : YHshinVH = Yeheshua, with the spiritual letter "shin" as copula). "Christ" was the Greek version of "Messiah", or : "the anointed one". 

So in Islam, the expression : "Jesus, the logos", is orthodox, if under "logos" is understood one of the many revelations (albeit exceptional) of ALLAH through the spirit of holiness (and not the "second God" of Philo of Alexandrian, one of the teachers of Paul). The Paulinian contribution, a nominal use of "Christ", is rejected by the Author of the Koran, who insists upon a radical definition of the absolute.

What follows is divided into three parts :

  1. a general outline of the use of criticism in religion & mysticism ;

  2. a critical study of the authenticity of the Koran ;

  3. a few major themes : hermeneutical levels, vertical approach, etc.

At the end of this webpage, there is a link to Towards a Plain Recital. This publication contains an English edition of the first two chapters of the Koran, based on several Dutch, French & English sources and assisted, whenever necessary, by capable native speakers. The publication of the complete text (although finished) was avoided in view of the overall balance of this website.

 1 The critical approach in religion & mystical experience.

1.1 The importance of critical philosophy.

The advent in Western Europe of critical philosophy has dramatically influenced all subsequent scientific endeavours. The core of Kant's "Copernican Revolution" and its impact on epistemology has been studied in Kennis (1995).

This fundamental reorientation has placed its stamp on nearly all scientific disciplines, and altered our views on the possibility and the expansion of knowledge fundamentally. Especially in the last century, has the critical (anti-dogmatic & anti-sceptic) perspective been assimilated by all major disciplines like physics (Kopenhagen interpretation), psychology (depth-psychology), sociology (Wertheimer) and biology (psychosomatism). In philosophy (Wittgenstein), Kant triggered the "linguistic turn", rooted in the transcendental method initiated with the Critique of Pure Reason (and culminating in the work of Fregge & Husserl).

Before Kant, empiricism held the conviction that the conditions determining the processes of thought (sense-data) are themselves part of the real world "out there", and hence constitutive for our knowledge (realism). In Hume's scepticism, only mathematical truths and direct observation are doors to knowledge. For him there are no universal empirical statements. The so-called "law" of causality is nothing more than a psychological habit. Kant's revolution attacks and refutes exactly that, for he showed that what we usually call "reality" is not the result of a perception of the real as if it were an open book, but is undoubtedly co-determined by the normative, conditional structure of cognition rooted in the subject of experience itself. So nature does not condition us, but it is we who impose our categories upon nature ... 

Kant still hoped to radically escape scepticism by trying to universalize these conditions themselves (reality would then be "our reality"), but this was of no avail. For in the 20th century epistemology and the psychology of observation clearly demonstrated that observation itself is never before or after subjective theoretical connotations, but rather happens within the context of expectation itself. 

Insofar as the latter are standardized in a particular historical method of investigation (set of rules for observation and dialogue conventionally accepted by the majority of relevant sign-interpreters), a relative, conventional "reality-for-us" may be arrived at when both observation (testing) and dialogue (discussion) yield a common experience of reality (for-us and its a posteriori criteria of knowledge-production). But this is not the same as our personal, intimate "reality-for-me" (the realities of my personal "Lebenswelt"), neither necessarily identical with "reality-as-such", i.e. reality as it is for and by itself without any subjective influence (also called "absolute reality"). 

In Rules for the Game of True Knowing (1999), the rules involved with this critical, normative theory on the possibilities knowledge (theoretical epistemology) and the methodology of producing facts (practical epistemology) are summarized. The latter are further elaborated and encompass both a hermeneutical technique (to understand various "religious" texts) and participant observation of actual communities in which particular ideas, beliefs & myths circulate (to understand the major "religious" communities).

1.2 The major difference between religion, religious experience and mysticism.

Religions experiences (re)connect the individual or a group with a fascinating larger, totalized whole which is experienced as awesome and mysteriously transcending the ordinary (cf. Otto's "mysterium tremendum et fascinans"). This whole may be certain particularly intense natural phenomena, nature as a whole, the state, the god-man, the deities or one Supreme Being. All these components may have different relationships and operational contexts. Let us call this larger whole "radical otherness". Religious experience reveals this as a "Gegenstand", which opposes one's everday conscious identity (the realm of the "others"). 

In the case of mystical experience, "otherness" can in no way be compared with our (socio) nominal experience of the otherness of nature, our fellow human beings, the forces of nature or the world, for here, the other is experienced as outstandingly exclusive and this has a dramatical impact on its subject of experience. Hence, in mysticism the "other" is "radical" & "rhetorical". 

Religion is always socially organized. A good reason for this is the fact that the approach of radical otherness may affect the religious singleton so intensely, that he or she may become physically ill, psychotic or in other ways unfunctional (cf. the experience of the desert fathers). Hence, social formations become necessary to embank this possibly dangerous flow towards transcendence and soften the ill effects of too much loneliness on a social animal expressing its humanity. Special places to gather and express this religiosity as a spiritual community emerge (communal caves or gathering places, loose spiritual groups, monasteries, temples, churches, synagogues, mosks, lodges, etc.). Specific rules are found which allow the individual to save him or herself (soteriology) within the context of the religion at hand. This salvation is generally preceded by adhering to a variety of rules touching upon the physical, psychological and moral characteristics of the person (virtues). This also implied purification, leading to or inviting salvation. In most religious systems the latter can only be realized as long as the individual accepts the rules of the game (each religion having its own set of rules and rationally conflicting themes). 

In the 20th century, comparative religion has shown that the source of most (if not all) religions is the direct experience of radical otherness by a single or a few individuals. Their experience is not limited by the need to reconnect the individual in group with a larger, numinous whole (as does religion). Exclusive theologies (only one religion saves) were replaced by inclusive, pluralist models (each religion saves in its own way). The speculative quest for the "nuggets of gold" radiating a meta- & multi-cultural theology is just beginning.

The founders of the religions either belong to myth (like Osiris in Ancient Egypt or Krishna in India), to history (Akhenaten & Amarna, Jesus in Christianity, Muhammad in Islam) or to memory (like Gautama in Buddhism, Lao Tzu in Taoism and Moses in Judaism). Insofar as this special individual has a more or less permanent experience of radical otherness (= the mystical state), he or she is called a mystic.

Mystical experiences are far more independent of the imaginations and conceptualizations of a religious group than are religious experiences. The act of adhering to a religion is impossible without assimilating a particular religious doctrine or code. This indicates that religious experience calls for a group standard (a totem, flag, waymarks). Mystical experiences move beyond a particular religious doctrine, which does not mean that (a) the mystical individual has no theoretical superstructures (cf. Staal) or (b) that he or she does not adhere to a religion (the latter condition is however not necessary for the experience to happen). Inner ideas and (to say the least) adherence to the philosophical longing satisfied by the unconditional (absolute reality), often serve to prepare and to (afterwards) understand the direct experience of radical otherness. But also : these superstructures may (in the case of a social mystic who reveals Divine signs in the different phases of a prophetic life) become the dogmatic articulations characteristic of a particular religion, fideistically considered holy and eternal ... wereas only the absolute can be named such.

So religious experiences are always mediated by a doctrine. The latter is "invented" (in the constructive sense) by those who really witnessed the radical experiences of the founding mystic(s) and collected the necessary information to save their insights for posterity and to formulate a common picture for the group to imitate. Nevertheless, the limitations of their religious experiences are such that they are not really (only allegorically or metaphorically) entitled to say anything about the contents of the mystical experience of any mystic (which is an exclusive, vertical matter between this mystic and the absolute). Hence, religious experiences are not radical because they are always more indirect than direct (i.e. more determined by explicit or implicit religious dogma). They are a door and an opening. At their best, they do offer a safe straight road when one's house is left. But if the soul's love of absolute unity is answered, can anything else than that absolute exist ? And what if the straight path is left ? Peaceful religions indeed represent the aspiration of human groups, their inner quest for the experience of the Divine. Only if they are in "permanent revolution" are they able to cope with the "spiritual lag" between the intentions of the mystical founder and the subsequent generations of theologians ... This points to a religion which fosters mysticism.

Let us distinguish between, on the one hand, the extraordinary experiences associated with orgasm, strong & intense emotions, awe, falling in love, serendipity, aha-experience, inventivity, synchronicity, intuition, etc. and, on the other hand, the experience of radical otherness. The former are clearly stations, i.e. intermediate, dynamical  states of consciousness, prone to change and determined by continuous (linear, cyclic, chaotic) processes (or changes of events in their phase-space). These extraordinary "everyday" experiences contain clear traces of the element of transcendence and the co-relative tendency to break through barriers, which seems inherent in the autostructuration which is operative (as the unconditional) in intelligent beings. In the direct & radical experience of the mystics, has the radical and completed form of this urge to move beyond limitations become observable.

The waking consciousness of the individual who at least had one mystical experience (a mystic) differs from that of a non-mystic insofar as the past mystical state is always remembered. The radical experience was so profound that it left a trace or deposit in consciousness (cf. the deposit in classical yoga or the "reshimu" in qabalah). This deposit influences the morality of the "one time" mystic, more focused now to serve his fellow living beings (the criteria to decide between genuine and bogus mysticism are to be found in ethics). Mystical states alone are powerful enough to immediately and permanently influence the morality of the subject of experience, raising his or her level of ethical engagement and charity (cf. Burcke).

Recurrent mystical experiences not only allow consciousness to encompass the "process" of the transcendent experience, but they also make it possible to observe the relationships between the color of the glass and the water poured into it. At some point the mystical stations (always ending in waking consciousness) rotate around one central mystical state, constantly enlightening the waking state (like an open door through which light enters into the rather dark room of nominal consciousness). The pendulum-movement characteristic of the stations is replaced by the integrated state.

This analysis raises the following points :

  1. a gifted mystic has more or less an immediate access to the direct experience of radical otherness, triggering superstructures which may or may not be made explicit ;

  2. the companions are guided by the mystic and collect (after his or her death) the stable components of what they think (or have been told) the superstructure of the founder looked like, making it into a religious dogma or a particular canonical discourse on radical otherness ;

  3. those who adhere to the dogma -which usually calls for an imitation of some of the practices of the founding mystic- may indirectly experience radical otherness through the eye-glasses of the particular dogma, veiling & limiting the real thing. This is then their religious experience ;

  4. a religion is born if the soteriological (salvic) power of the dogma triggers the formation of a solid spirito-social structure (i.e. the companions have followers). This can only mean that the eye-glass was strong enough to allow for a succesfull albeit derived and indirect imitation of the founder's mystical experience, transforming it into the religious experience of the disciples who claim to walk the path of the master ... ;

  5. the more time has elapsed between the mystical experiences of the founder and the religious experiences of the followers of the companions, the more likely it is that the original superstructures (of the founder) become intermixed with elements which are foreign to the original direct experiences of radical otherness, moving the religion away from the message of its founder (as has been the case in all world religions).

1.3 Religion & criticism : a few historical remarks ...

It took more than a century to fully understand how critical thought might play a constructive role in the study of comparative religion and mysticism. In fact, in the 19th century this was deemed impossible, for around 1850, religious experiences were seen as an outdated mode of relating with the world (Compte), a projection of humanity (Feuerbach), an epiphenomenon of the brain, an instrument used by the upper classes to keep the masses sedated (Marx, Engels), a psychopathology (Freud) etc. 

In the same way, mystical experiences were considered psychotic, i.e. involving delusionary thinking, hallucinations and the construction of an illusionary world (a theory unfortunately still popular in some conservative psychiatric circles in Belgium today) ... At the end of the 19th century, psychic research (later called parapsychology) was born, and materialistic science was confronted with the inadequacies of its own model of the world. Also from the inside did the Newtonian monolith show its first cracks, namely as (a) the ultra-violet-catastroph,  suggesting that nature jumped (cf. Planck's quantum), and (b) the experiment of Michelson & Morley, proving the constancy of the speed of light. In the last quater of the 20th century, chaostheory added the insight that very small changes in the initial conditions could produce massive effects. 

It took till the end of the previous century, to realize that no advancement of science is possible if both object and subject of observation are not taken into consideration, meaning the end of reductionistic approaches, i.e. exclusive materialism (objectivism, positivism, realism, scientism) and spiritualism (subjectivism, idealism). Pushed too far, this relativism became absolute itself, giving way to "anything goes" (Feyerabend), radical scepticism regarding "all-emcompassing stories" (Lyotard) and the denial of absolute standards for reason (Rorty). 

The postmodern approach allowed for "double coding" (Jameson & Derrida's deconstruction) and a new king of spectrology (the study of the invisible, the unseen, the absent). Furthermore, contemporary parapsychological studies proved the existence of extraodinary individuals able to read minds & objects at a distance (remove viewing, psychometry), project themselves out of their physical body (astral projection), cause small and large changes in objects inexplicable by the current laws of physics (telekinesis), etc. 

The moderate postmodern position of this system* implies that objectivity is only guaranteed if, on the one hand, it is understood that observational statements are impossible without some extra-linguistic, absolute reality, which -so do we believe- makes itself known to us through the letters of belief provided by the facts observed during experiments and which correspond with our ideas & discussions about reality.

On the other hand, no knowledge can be gained without subjective linguistic activity (the articulation of theories, dialogue, discussion and consensus), for both the organization and the assessment of an experiment are impossible without (a) a particular theoretical background which, by mutual agreement, is considered constant (cf. the "ceteris paribus"-clause) and (b) opportunistic rules-of-thumb allowing one to measure (cf. the Kopenhagen interpretation of the experimental context and the work of Knorr-Cetina). 

Hence, science does not produce eternalized knowledge (Kwant), but knowledge which we can consider as true for the time being (Polyani). Moreover, the discovery of the fallibility of knowledge (Popper), the dependence of science on the relative, historical context of knowledge-production (Knorr-Cetina) and the theory-ladenness of observation (Lakatos, Kuhn) have paved the way for the notion that the language of science and the language of religion are two separate language games (Wittgenstein) with their own set of realities ... The two may thus exist next to each other, but should never interact. In this view, science mainly deals with the objective, significant state of affairs of the world, whereas religion is concerned with the subjectively relevant conditions of life, like values, morals and personal salvation (seen as subjective well-being). Science, finally awakened out of its dogmatic slumber, no longer claimed to have access to absolute reality. But, the language game of science was and is considered to be superior, for inter-subjectively valid and dealing with a reality shared by all concerned sign-interpreters (i.e. a "reality-for-us"). 

1.4 The challenge of comparative mysticism.

In the 20th century, comparative mysticism showed how this artificial dichotomy between science and religion was not satisfactory and possibly flawed. Firstly, because mystical experiences (independent of their different religious contexts) share common characteristics, proving that some objective elements are present in the subjective process of enlightenment (as classical rationalists and intuitionists had claimed - cf. the role of intellectual perception and intuition). Especially the fact that (besides parapsychological and other internal constants) the mystics of the world articulate a more or less common cognitive model of reality (based on unity-in-differentiation or bi-polarity, the coincidence of the opposites & un-saying) suggested that mystical experiences may be significant to understand the rather hidden and mysterious layers of the real (constantly veiled by our inalienable subjectivities which colour the water of life). 

Secondly, mystics claim to experience absolute reality, i.e. the experience is so radical that most if not all subjective & objective conditions of the mystic are temporarily cancelled and a paradoxical "station of no station" (Ibn'Arabî) beyond subjectivity and objectivity is -ex hypothesi- attained. If this is truly the case, then it would mean that mystical experience probe deeper into reality than do scientific theories. Do mystics catch glimpses of the real as it is for and by itself ? Science always remains dependent of the subjective conditions of observation & dialogue (which always change) and hence a forteriori deals with aspects of reality conditioned by subjectivity. Ironically, this is exactely what was said about religion in the 19th century, when science was still thought to be founded on the rock-bottom of the "absolutely objective" sense-data and the various conflicts between the religions were seen as sufficient proof of their fundamental subjective conditionings, deemed incommensurable and ideosyncratic. 

We had to wait for Bergson to understand that the world religions all share the same core, namely the mystical experiences of their respective founder.

  1. Indian classical yoga was systematized by Patañjali ;

  2. Buddhism goes back to prince Gautama ;

  3. Judaism is unthinkable without Moses ;

  4. Christianity would not be without the historical Jesus ;

  5. Islam came with Muhammad.

The basic mysticological rule is :

a human subject < >> the Divine (!)

< or :
(1) in 4 nominal dimensions of space-time aspiring to transcend (cf. "ascendat oratio")
(2) only an initiatoric procedure exists without an adjacent probable
>> or :
(1) more than 4 dimensions of space-time answering the call (cf. "descendat gratia")
(2) the subjective answer has objective validity
< >> or :
(1) direct, immediate, individual experience
(2) paradoxical, in essence ineffable, totalizing
! : this rule is coherent

The theological set of rules added by the religions is :

(1) a human subject = founder < >> the Divine (!)
(2) the founder(s) = the sacred symbol (?)
(3) subjects < the sacred symbol >> the Divine (??)

? : this rule is questionable but acceptable
?? : this rule is questionable & unacceptable

Ideally, the authentic elocutions & actions of a founding mystic (1) become the sacred symbols of the tradition initiated by the first direct witnesses or companions of the founder (2). These symbols encompass a model of the world, a theory on man, ethics & the afterlife and a salvic road, defined as the "right path". This superstructuring is also and always political, i.e. meant to organize the mass of believers. 

Mostly within a couple of centuries after the founder's death, a large number of texts see the light, and a so-called "sacred" tradition ensues. A lot of this may be purely legendary & mythical.

History shows that this traditional testimony is always questionable because quickly after a founder's physical death corruption occurs, redundancy & conflicts rise, schisms are proclaimed & battles are unleached. This is the sad history of the glorification of human inventions. In Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity & Islam differences operate and continue to do so and hence the fundamental message of unity was and is -historically- lost (each in its own way and with its own particular stories & intensities.)

1.5 The ontological illusions of the religions.

The difficulties involving the confrontation of religion with critical thought circumambulate the fact that most if not all religious authorities and their traditions were and are deeply rooted in what Kant called the "ontological illusion", namely the confusion of the conditions of knowledge which are rooted in the subject of experience with objective states exclusively belonging to the world (and hence independent of any subjective condition). This illusion is not surprising. 

Firstly, because the superstructures developed by the religions are all pre-critical. This means more precisely that they make use of a conceptual realism which claimed a direct, one-to-one relationship between our thoughts (assumptions, theories) and reality. Hence, what we think is a reflection of what is. Plato and Aristotle were both conceptual realists, although not in the same way (for Plato, ideas existed outside our minds in a world of ideas and for Aristotle, ideas were abstractions produced by the active intellect). Plato had a major influence on Hellenistic Judaism (Philo of Alexandria) and Christian neo-Platonism, whereas Aristotle influenced the Arabs (Ibn Sina, Ibn Roesjd) and Thomism. Proto-critical sounds, like Dionysian negative theology in Christianity or Nagarjuna's views on vacuity in Buddhism never became mainstream. 

Secondly, religions are meant to organize the masses ... they end up serving political ends. So simple answers to complex problems are necessary. Apologies based on critical thought are bad marketing tools and so the religions prefer to accept the escape-route of the "mysteries" than to attack the core : a continuous adaptation of the dogma in the light of other mystical experiences (i.e. continuous reformation).

Thirdly, religions tend to sanctify the founder in such a way that s/he becomes too far removed from the disciples to stimulate them to imitate the mystical experience of the founder. For this is considered as an exclusive matter between radical otherness and the founder, and hence the dogmatic superstructures developed by the religions themselves, become a system which barrs one from the core of the matter : the experience of otherness, either directly (mystical experience) or indirectly (through an everchanging and adaptive, flexible religious model).

What happens is that dogma becomes fixed for ever. Without criticism it is thought that religious concepts represent the absolute reality to which they refer (in fact they are just one inter-subjective historical interpretation of this reality, not the reality itself).

1.6 Main areas of critical study of the religions :

  1. the investigation of the historical, psychological, sociological & political influences on the formation of the religions ; and

  2. a hermeneutical study of their major texts and traditions and the participant observation of the practices of the living religions. 

It must be said that in the previous century, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism & Buddhism have been scrutinized using sound critical standards, thus allowing for a clearer perspective on the original and even suggesting ways to perfect the tradition. 

For example. The qabalah of Judaism refers to a universal model of existence (the Tree of Life) which can be used outside the dogmatic formulations or rabbinical Judaism. It is largely mathematical and hence open to adaptions and critical expansions. 

The mass of critical studies show that Christianity, being today an unsound amalgam and unworkable hybrid, can not be recuperated without assimilating gnosticism and the results of the seminars on Jesus. This however would make Christianity move away from the particularities of the institutionalized aspects. But as so little is known, how to avoid that the nugget of gold (Jesus) is again immersed in irrelevant myths and metaphysics ? Moreover, the valid elements of the creed were mostly forms of worship recuperated from Jewish debris and pagan cults and subsequently "christified" ("in the name of Christ" or "through Christ" added). In that respect, Christianity offers the best example of the drama of the difference between the founding experience and its superstructure (namely life & teachings of Jesus son of Mary) and the resulting religion. 

Hinduism (if such a term may be used) is a complex phenomenon. Nevertheless, of the six schools of philosophy, classical yoga proves to be a fairly independent, ortho-practical and workable approach of the absolute. It focuses on practice, not on theory, and although its classical form calls for a theistic component, Ishvara's role is reduced to that of being the archetypal yogi. This shows that the realization of the direct experience of the absolute is the only goal of yoga. This makes yoga to be the oldest conceptualization of the methods leading the individual to his or her own direct experience. I.e. instead of promoting an ideology (orthodoxy) based on past direct experiences (of some extraordinary individual), classical yoga promotes the direct experience of the absolute by every individual during his or her lifetime (orthopraxis). Hence yoga is mystical and the most honest & practical traditional path leading to enlightenment. Insofar as Buddhism is limited to the realization of Buddha-nature, it has a lot in common with yoga, except for the latter's theist component and the acceptance of the material world as real and substantial.

1.7 The criticism of Islam ?

Let us now turn to the matter at hand : Islam or the complete and irreversible submission to ALLAH, the Merciful, Compassionate Most High. The first thing to be remarked is that a critical understanding of Islam by Muslim scholars is still on its way. Studies by Western scholars on the other hand are available since the 19th century. They focus on the reception of the Koran and the trustworthiness of the historical information about Muhammad, the prophet of ALLAH.

Indeed, these are the two main sources necessary to approach Islam : the revelation sent down to Muhammad (the Koran) and the traditions ("hadîth) ascribed to the latter, believed to clarify the Koran ... One of the reasons why a critical study by Muslim scientists of the Koran poses difficulties (and this despite the fact that to increase knowledge is explicitly mentioned in the Koran) is their devotional approach of the book, described by Western critics a superstitious (like putting it on the highest shelve in a library). For Muslims, the Koran, also called "the book" is the most important text ever, while critical literary atheists have described it as boring, nonsensical and of a very poor literary quality ... and its author as a fraudulent man who devised revelations for convenience sake ... 

It goes without saying that a critical mind must remain open enough to understand why believers understand the Koran as the highest form of literature, for in its 114 sûra's or "series" there is only one in which ALLAH is not speaking (namely the first one, called "al-Fatihah", the Opening). Hence, because of this direct textual contact between the Divine and humanity offered through the book, it must a forteriori be the excellence of excellences. This claim has to be weighed against the historical authenticity of the text as we have it, which brings us to the criticism of the reception of the Koran. Along with this study is the question of originality.

Furthermore, it is not because one adheres in the field of rational research to the methods of criticism, that one has to reject theism or the existence of the Supreme Being for that matter. So although critical minds may be atheists (making their position easier), it is certainly not a necessary condition or a requirement. It is not because one accepts the existence of the absolute (the Supreme Being exists) that every revelation is a priori accepted as genuine. In fact, how can an atheist develop enough sensitivity to understand the deeper layers put into revealed texts ? Hence, critical "friends of God" are the best guarantee for an honest and open study of the relevance of any revelation. These friends may even adhere to none of the religions at all, and propose a rational concept of the Absolute (cf. the "God of the philosopher") based on what the mystics of all traditions claim and on the best of the religions.

Their honesty can only be doubted if it has been proved that their critical study is a mask or apology for a particular creed. So two things have to be avoided here :

  1. the critical atheist has to remain open and flexible enough to be able to change his or her position. If the study of revelation is undertaken with a prejudice (or hate) against the absolute, then clearly some points will be missed and although the worse blunders (if any) will be put forward, it remains extremely unlikely that a total picture will be attained. The critical atheist often forgets that the existence of the absolute has not been disproved by science, which deems itself unfit to answer that question (in the same way as scientific language is inadequate to describe what happened before the Big Bang). This begs the question whether atheists, and sceptics in general are valid investigators of the religions, mysticism and the peripheral disciplines in particular. For unlike critical minds, sceptics already have a proposition to prove (albeit a negative one) and hence come nearer to dogmatism (as Kant so admirably demonstrated) ;

  2. the critical theist, deist, pantheist or pan-en-theist has to be rational enough to be able to see the contextual and personal elements which may creep in during the reception of the revelation. This can be guaranteed if the investigator is not set in advance to "prove" this or that creed. In fact, all historical creeds, being manmade, contain falsehoods ... 

It is clear that this type of scientist has to focus on the direct experience of radical otherness itself, and hence will not throw the child away with the bathwater, meaning that errors in superstructures not necessarily dismiss the experience of the mystic or (in the case of Islam), the prophet Muhammad. As Staal suggested, the true critical investigator of the religions in general and of mystical experience in particular has him(her)self to experience (directly or indirectly) radical otherness in order to erect a firm inner foundation, which then may be contrasted with the historical creeds (rooted in the mystical experiences of their founder). The author of the present text tries to belong to the second category and his experiences and studies have turned him into a critical pan-en-theist disciplined enough to daily perform a series of spiritual exercises (the one remembrance of the absolute). 

criticism of the historical authenticity of Islam

§ 1 the redactions of the Koran.  

Several redactions have to be distinguished :  

  1. the texts of the "al-Qurra", a class of men in Medina, who lived near the prophet, and had a fairly complete knowledge of the revelations and of the rules of life (Caetani, 1915). It is possible that they memorized most of their knowledge but also recorded parts of it. It is not unlikely that independent collections of "al-Quarra" texts existed before the first redaction under Abu Bakr.

  2. the independent texts on "pieces of papyrus, flat stones, palm leaves, shoulder blades and ribs of animals, pieces of leather and wooden boards, as well as from the hearts of men" mentioned by Zaid ibn Thabit.

  3. the private, first redaction of Zaid ibn Thabit : a codex of what he had collected on sheets or leaves made under Abu Bakr, caliph between 632 & 634, and given to the second caliph 'Umar when Abu Bakr died in 634 and upon 'Umar's death to his daughter Hafsa.

  4. the second, "official" redaction of Zaid ibn Thabit under 'Uthman (650 - 656 CE). 

In 1 - 3,  all textual elements were in "scripta defectiva" meaning that the consonantal text was unpointed, so that the distinction between letters was blurred and several others indistinguishable. The 'Uthman collection was meant to standardize the text, changing it into a "scripta plena" (a fully voweled and pointed text).  

"It must be emphasized that far from there being a single text passed down inviolate from the time of 'Uthman's commission, literally thousands of variant readings of particular verses were known in the first three (Muslim) centuries. These variants affected even the 'Uthmanic codex, making it difficult to know what is true form may have been."
Adams, C.J. : "Quran : The Text and Its History", in Eleade, M. (edit) : Encyclopedia of Religion, Macmillan - New York, 1987, p.157-76, my italics. 

The last redaction, official collection or second reaction of Zaid ibn Thabit was completed between 650 and 'Uthman's death in 656. This collection was sent to Kufa, Basra & Damascus, and all other versions were ordered to be destroyed ! The collection of Ibn Mas'ud of Kufa survived (he was indignant that the text was established by someone like Zaid), as did many others. In fact, scholars like Jeffery (1937) listed fifteen primary codices, and a large number of secondary ones. The "official" text of modern Islam is based on Asim of Kufa through Hafs (cf. Egyptian edition of 1924). The presence of an authentic koranic tradition before the official redaction, the probability of different collections in Arab before the one made by Zaid under Abu Bakr, as well as testemonies of trustworthy sources, make it clear that we do not possess the complete text of the Koran

§ 2 The absence of a redaction ordered by Muhammad. 

If Muhammad had wished for a collection of his independent revelations he would have ordered its redaction himself. This does not mean that the text we have is totally untrustworthy, but to consider it as complete and of inviolate origin (as fundamentalists do) runs against its historical criticism and, as we shall see, against what is written about it in the Koran itself (cf. infra). 

"... the Prophet, who was more probably an unlettered man, had never thought of writing a book, or of gathering together, in a complete code, the scattered verses which he had recited to his friends, in some circumstances of his life ..."
Mingana, A. & Smith, A. : Leaves from Three Ancient Qurâns Possibly Pre-'Othmânic with a List of their Variants, Cambridge, 1914, introduction, pp.xi-xxxii. 

§ 3 The originality of the contents of the Koran.

Critical studies of the Koran prove that many of its themes, as well as the stories about the Hebrew prophets largely came from the Jews of Arabia (cf. the Bani Quraiza, Qainunqa'a, Nadhir near Medina), whereas parts of the sections on Jesus & Mary were influenced by certain Christian opinions circulating at the time of Muhammad (spurious data of so-called heretical sects like Gnostics of Basilides and Marcionites or of plain domestical origin - cf. his Coptic handmaiden Mary). Muhammad himself confused Miriam, the sister of Moses, with Mary, the mother of Jesus and he makes the fertility of Egypt depend on rain instead of the inundations of the Nile (12:49). Furthermore, the content of certain passages is at times purely for the sake of rhyme. Instead of the usual seven angels around the Throne, sometimes eight are introduced in order to assure that "thamaniyah" happens to fall in with the rhyme (69:17). This shows its underlying poetical (recitatoric) intention.

The Book claims that Christ announced to his followers to expect a prophet named Ahmed ("the praised one"), because they fancied that the word "Paraklete" meant "Periclete" (praised, celebrated) etc. Apparently, the Christians around Muhammad did not know the book of Revelations, nor the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian theology. The tales of Christ's childhood were taken from the non-canonical (i.e. heretical & fabulous) literature of early Christianity (with its variety of non-centrist, gnostical sects depending heavily on the gift of prophesy).

Moreover, some koranic verses have without doubt been taken from poems anterior to Muhammad. Passages from the Sabaa Mu'allaqat of Imra'ul Qays appear in the Recital. The story goes that it was the custom of the time for poets to hang up their compositions upon the Ka'aba and it is known that the seven Mu'allaqat were exposed. Fatima (the daughter of the prophet) was repeating a verse and was overheard by the daughter of Imra'ul Qays, who said : "O that's what your father has taken from one of my father's poems, and calls it something that has come down to him out of heaven.", a story told amongst Arabs until today. Moreover, before the time of Muhammad, at Mecca, Medina & Tayif, the Hanefites had stressed the unity of The God and abandoned their idols. Their influence upon the prophet is beyond doubt (especially Zaid ibn Amr).

Arabian and Greek historians tell us that previous and during his life, many parts of the peninsula were ruled by Persian kings. Undoubtedly, many of the Eastern descriptions of the garden of paradise were overheard and known by the prophet, as well as the "balance" of judgment (of Ancient Egyptian origin via the so-called The Testament of Abraham, originally written in Egypt). Traditions tells us how often Muhammad conversed with people of every nation in their own tongue.

The principle of theology of the Book is a radical dogmatic articulation of monotheism hand in hand with the idea that The God sent many messengers with His messages (or clear communications) before Muhammad.

The first part of the "declaration of unity" can also be found in the Torah and even in the Amarna religion. Was the idea of the multiplicity of communications (sealed by Muhammad) developed properly ? Indeed, nothing is said about the scriptures of the Hindus (Vedas), Buddhists (Tripitaka), Ancient Egyptians (Pyramid Texts) or Assyrians (to name but a few of the great & pre-Arabic religions). If one concludes that these religions were unknown to Muhammad, then he too had his limitations and reflected what he knew through the forms of his own mind & senses (cf. the Sûfî dictum : "water takes the color of the glass"). He never got in touch with the Ancient Egyptian quest for the Great One Alone, nor with the monotheistic monuments of enlightened Brahmanism or the teachings of the historical Buddha. 

Some scholars conclude that the Koran was filtered by the mind of its prophet (cf. the koranic distinction between the prophet as a human being and Gabriel as "rasul karim ALLAH") ... 

These and other examples (like the verse on beating women) have been thoroughly criticized by contemporary scholarship. Changes very probably occured as soon as the text was canonized.

§ 4 And what after Muhammad died ? 

As soon as Muhammad died in 632 A.D., important organizational problems rose. It was unclear who the rightful successor ("khalîfa") of the prophet was ("khalifah rasul Allâh" or "successor of the Messenger of God"). Would the emergent Arab culture relapse into its former ancestral tribal consciousness ? A central focal point seemed necessary.  

"Canonization and stabilization of the text of the Koran go hand in hand with the formation of the community, according to Wansbrough. A final fixed text of the scripture was not required, nor was it totally feasible, before political power was firmly controlled ; thus the end of the second/eighth century becomes a likely historical moment for the gathering together of oral tradition and liturgical elements leading to the emergence of the fixed canon of scripture and the emergence of the actual concept 'Islam'."
Rippin, A.  : "Literary analysis of Koran, Tafsir, and Sira : The Methodologies of John Wansbrough", in Martin, R.C. (edit) : Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies, University of Arizona Press - Tucson, 1985, p.155.

Those who's interests had been purely political, argued that the death of Muhammad meant the end of their allegiance with the community of ALLAH. This shows that the historical community was not the unity of ALLAH Muhammad had projected it to be (the rejection of hypocrisy is often repeated in the Koran). But most of the Muslims gathered around Abu Bakr, the first calyph, or successor of Muhammad as spiritual leader of the Islam. He was very clear about his authority, claiming no Divine status, nor human excellence (cf. Ibn Ishaak's account in 1017). But only two years later he died and was succeeded by 'Umar & 'Uthman. In 656 (only 24 years later) 'Ali became the last of the founding calyphs of Islam after Muhammad. 

'Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law who married Fatima, Muhammad's only daughter, had stressed that the leader should in all cases care for his people. But 'Ali never quite received the allegiance of all the Muslims. He had to wage increasingly unsuccessful wars to maintain himself in power. He was murdered in 661, and Mu'awiyah, his chief opponent, became caliph. After Ali's murder, Mu'awiyah -the governor of Syria during the early Arab conquests, a kinsman of 'Uthman, and a member of the Quraysh lineage of the prophet- proclaimed himself caliph and established his capital in Damascus. 

From there he conquered Muslim enemies to the east, south, and west and fought the Byzantines to the north ! He is considered by some as the architect of the Islamic empire and a political genius (the Constantine of Islam). Under his governorship, Syria became the most prosperous province of the caliphate. Mu'awiyah created a professional army and won the undying loyalty of his troops (like Alexander the Great, he paid them their generous salaries on time). Heir to Syrian shipyards built by the Byzantines, he established the caliphate's first navy. He also conceived and established an efficient government.

'Ali's second son, Al-Husain, refused to recognize the legitimacy of Mu'awiyah's son and successor as caliph, Yazid. This led to the schism between Sunnites and Shiites (the later party of 'Ali). The community of the direct followers of the prophet had considered themselves to be the guardians of the orthodox core or spiritual "sunna" (the habitual practices) of the prophet. These Sunnites were in the majority. This unity was breached when the dynasty of the Omayyads (initiated by Mu'awiyah) ruling the Empire of the Caliphate (CE 661 - 750) was rejected by the Shiites. The followers of 'Ali claimed that only the direct relatives of 'Ali could inherit the caliphate. The Shiites stressed (not unlike the Zoroastrians) inspired leadership ("imam") and actually venerated Husain, the second son of 'Ali. 

As a result a fundamental division rose between the orthodox majority (following the "sunna" of the prophet) and the growing opposition, condemned for heresy. At present 60 to 80 million people (or 10% of Islam) are Shiites. The first four calyphs, so-called rightly guided, had more or less assured the unity of the community which had also been very important to the prophet. With the rise of the Shiites this unity was broken and would never be restored again ... 

The prophet's direct successors, the "perfect caliphate" and later Mu'awiyah effected the expansion of the Islamic state beyond Arabia into Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iran, and Armenia and, with it, the development of an elite class of Arab soldiers. They were also responsible for the adoption of an authoritative reading of the official Koran, which strengthened the Sunnite Muslim community and encouraged religious scholarship. By 732, the dynasty founded by Mu'awiyah had conquered Spain and Tours in France and stretched in the east to Samarkand and Kabul. It
exceeded the greatest boundaries of the Roman Empire.

The Omayyads followed the traditions set by the Hellenistic monarchs and the Romans. The conqueror's (Muslim) law applied only to those of the same faith or nationality as the conquerors. During the 89 years of Umayyad rule, most Syrians became Muslims, and the Arabic language replaced Aramaic. The Omayyads minted coins, built hospitals, and constructed underground canals to bring water to the towns. Foreign trade expanded, and educated Jews and Christians, many of them Greek, found employment in the caliphal courts, where they studied and practiced medicine, alchemy, and philosophy. 

However, during their expansion the Muslims encountered Zoroastrism in Persia, monophysite Christianity in Syria & Asia Minor (especially in Anatolia), Nestorian Christianity in the Euphrate region, Buddhism & Hinduism in Nordwest India, fertility cults in North Africa and Roman Catholicism in Spain.
All these religions influenced Islam, especially its mystical current (Sufism).

§ 5 The rise of orthodoxy ... 

A century after Muhammad's death, Islam was not considered to be a religion for all of humanity. Only Arabs could convert. But, the other religions "of the book" ("ahl al-kitâb") received freedom to practice and were protected minorities ("dzimmî"). Moreover, especially after the period of the "ar-râsjidun" (the first four so-called rightly guided successors), when all of Muhammad's companions had died, one argued that the text of the official Koran could not be understood properly without the oral tradition or "hadîth's" (the stories about the "sunna" of the prophet). 

So the "Sharî'ah", or sacred codex of Islamic practices was written down (9th - 10th century).
It was based on :

  1. the Koran

  2. the "Sunna" (the way) of the prophet as recorded in the Tradition (the "hadîth") ;

  3. the "Ijma'", or universal agreement, which probably has been the most important factor in defining what the Koran and the straight path imply but which itself has remained the least clearly formulated religious institution of Islam. Its full nature and implications have never been really analyzed neither in Medieval Islam nor by modern scholarship. Far from working as unique standard, "Ijma'" came to operate as a principle of toleration of different traditions within Islam ;

  4. "Qiyas", or analogical reasoning, is the genuine basis of interpretation and thought ("ijtihad") in Islam. It is this which makes progressive "Ijma'" possible. Its earlier form was personal thought and opinion, criticized by traditional authorities as "arbitrary." 

Four new sciences, known as the "sciences of the Sharî'ah", saw the light : the prophetic tradition ("hadîth'), koranic exegesis ("tafsir"), theology ("kalam"), and law ("fiqh"). As a result of increased exposure to other religious systems, a cleavage occurred between the law and the doctrine, and the former, which ideally presupposed the latter as its base, came not only to be an independent discipline but to claim for itself the title of the science of the Shari'ah par excellence and was even identified with the Shari'ah itself. Thus "fiqh", which originally meant an understanding of the entire range of the faith, came to be applied to law alone. 

Later, several new disciplines focused one the more philosophical aspects of these scriptures and these fractions often disagreed. Heresy became in effect in Islam. Although Islam stresses the importance of a political organization in accord with the laws of ALLAH, i.e. unity, it lacks the necessary tools to realize this : no canon, no centralized authority and many fractions and sects fighting each other for supremacy. Even today in our secularized societies this remains a problem. In France, Muslims were till recently not represented in the national council for religions because it remained unclear who represented the community as a whole. The same happened in Belgium, were till 1999 the Muslims could not benefit from the official support offered to Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism & Orthdox faith. Moreover, often after these councils have been established, they do not receive the support of everybody, diminishing their executive power.

"According to general belief, ahâdîth were orally transmitted at least for one hundred years. (...) On the authenticity of this statement, there are differences of opinion among orientalists. Muir accepts it with the remark that there are no authentic remains of any such compilation of an earlier date than the middle of the 2nd century of the Hijrah. While Guillaume in referring to this statement says, 'The hâdîth must be regarded as an invention', Ruth also refers to Guillaume and some other scholars who doubt the trustworthiness of the report."
Azami, M.M. : Studies in Early Hadîth Literature, American Trust Publications - Washington, 1992, chapter II, pp.18-19. 

Moreover, the famous imam Malik Ibn Anas (born in Medina in the 8th century A.D.) never stopped saying that he did not record any of the Hadith they recounted, because he saw that they were dealing in matters for which they were
not qualified.

"After having tried to set straight the historical record - the line of transmitters and witnesses who gave their account of a troubled historical epoch - I can only advise redoubled vigilance when, taking the sacred as an argument, someone hurls at the believer as basic truth a political axiom so terrible and which such grave historical consequences as the one we have been investigating. Nevertheless, we will see that this 'misogynistic' Hadith, although it is exemplary, is not a unique case."
Mernissi, F. : The Veil and the Male Elite, Perseus - Massachusetts, 1991, p.61. (She is talking about the Hadith that states : "Those who entrust their affairs to a woman will never know prosperity !" 

Is it strange that political matters like succession, power & territory played such an important role after the prophet of ALLAH died ? Anyway, these considerations make Western scholars prudent enough not to blundly accept as genuine all (oral) stories in circulation after 632. Furthermore, it discredits any attempt to sanctify them. 

The Recitation ended when Muhammad died and the Muslims did not regress by reconstituting the tribal mosaic and its worship of the 360 gods, although polytheist practices prevail (cf. the kissing of the Ka'aba). During his lifetime they believed that Muhammad was a very evolved human, perhaps the archetype of the emerging Arab spiritual state of mind able to confront & transcend all former revelations. Apparently the language Muhammad used guaranteed the survival of a pan-Arabic cultural form. In the light of this achievement, all conflicts between the political fractions seem irrelevant. But they continue to exist till today.

2 The Koran's authenticity : intra- and extra-textual evidence.

2.1 The intra-textual evidence : guarded tablet, transmission of sence, abrogated and Satanic verses, Muhammad's limitations, variations and the Arabic tongue.

§ 1 The guarded tablet versus the revealed copy.

To most traditionalists, asking questions about the authenticity of the Koran is considered as blasphemy. The same incredible attitude is found in Christian fundamentalists. It is part of the complex of fossilizing effects which install themselves after the process of canonization of the superstructure erected by the followers of a founding mystic is over. In the case of the Koran, this is surprising, for the Koran itself contains a lot of information concerning its own authenticity. Is it not strange then that the learned doctors of Islam did not develop their theories on the basis of these data ? Why ? Instead of answering this question, let us focus on what the Koran teaches. 

In it is made the fundamental distinction between the revealed text (a recitation or "qur'ân") and its original guarded by ALLAH : 

"Yes ! This glorious Koran is written on a tablet guarded with great care."

This is confirmed :

"Recite what has been revealed to you of the book of ALLAH. Nobody can change His words. Apart from Him, you will find no refuge."

The "book" of ALLAH or "kitâb" is a written piece, not the historical text to be recited (or a "qur'ân"). Nobody can change these words or decrees ("kalimât"). Hence, there are two entities : an original, celestial writing which never changes and which is guarded by ALLAH and its copy revealed to Muhammad through Gabriel. This original is given a special name : 

"Ha Mim By the clear book. We have made it an Arabic Koran so that you would understand it. The mother of the book is with Us. It is indeed sublime and wise."

The word "mother" implies center, source, origin. The mother of the book is hence the matrix from which the copy is made. This distinction is suggestive of the genetical relationship between an unchanging original and a copy exposed to all kinds of risks ... Although the copy may be in peril, its mother remains the same all the time. The relationship between both is expressed by the verb "saddaqa", i.e. to be loyal to the celestial original. But this conformity is not a literal reproduction, for the same verb is used to indicate that the scripture of the Jews and those of the Christians are conform ("musaddiq"). Hence, the copy revealed to Muhammad is far from being a literal reproduction of the book written on the guarded tablet, although the copy conserves the general sense of the guarded tablet ...

§ 2 The guarded tablet and the celestial library.

When Pharaoh asks Moses about the past generations and their teachings :

"Moses answered : 'The knowledge of them is with my Lord, in the book. My Lord goes not astray, nor forgets."

That ALLAH possesses and guards the scriptures of the ancient peoples of 'Âd, Thamûd, etc. is thereby confirmed. The "book" mentioned is nothing less than a complete celestial library containing all the spiritual knowledge of humanity. The guarded tablet is the most revered book in it, but it does not stand alone. Nevertheless, the original tablet is the object of special care : 

"No ! I swear by the falling stars, (And this is indeed a mighty oath, did you but know !) that the noble Koran, the prototype of which is in a hidden book, should be touched by none except the purified. Its a revelation from the Lord of all being."

Nowhere is it said that the purified angels occupy themselves to guard the revealed copy of the hidden tablet. Hence, alterations during its transmission are not excluded.

§ 3 Transmission of the sense only.

The notion of conformity is used in the Koran to indicate the relationship between the revelations of the ancients, namely those that became before the revelation to Muhammad. Also : the Gospel is said to be conform ("musaddiq") with the Koran. This potential non-conformity between the original and the copy (the written book and the revealed recital) has been confirmed by Muslim theologians.

Suyûtî (who died in 1505 CE) put forward three possibilities : (1) there is a literal conformity ; (2) Gabriel received the sense which Muhammad put down in Arab and (3) Gabriel received the sense and expressed it in Arab (the inhabitants of heaven read the book in Arab) ... The latter two options imply that the sense of the book is unlike the words of Muhammad ... Al-Juwaynî proposed to settle the argument, by conjecturing that part of the Koran is literal and another was transmitted in accordance with the sense of the revelation only ...

§ 4 Abrogation of verses and the Satanic revelations.

Two other important intra-textual problems prevail : (1) the Koran itself mentions the fact that ALLAH abrogates and confirms certain verses and (2) some revelations were caused by Satan with the accord of ALLAH.

"Before you, We sent messengers, and We assigned to them wives and a lineage. None of them brought signs, except by ALLAH's leave. Every period has had its sacred book. ALLAH blots out or maintains whatever He will. In His hands rests the essence of the book."

If every period has its sacred book, then clearly the distinction between the guarded, unaltered tablet and a revelation which adapts to historical circumstances (the law of periods - "ajal") becomes acute. Without solving his dilemma, the Koran merely points out that those who are of bad faith see in this the proof of prophetic imposture. 

"And when We exchange in this Koran a verse for another verse (ALLAH knows very well what He is sending down), they say : 'You are a mere forger !' No ! Most of them have no knowledge.
Tell them that the spirit of holiness sent it down from your Lord in truth to confirm those who believe, to guide them and to bring good tidings to those who surrender.'"


To propose that it is necessary to adapt the revelation to a changing situation and to new problems may lead to another, more fundamental question, namely how to maintain the validity of the revelation in the light of the authenticity of the unchanged Divine text ? Apparently, according to the Koran, only the spirit of holiness is able to bridge this gap by inspiring the friends of ALLAH. Hence, the whole matter is made dependent of the depth of the faith of the believers and their ability of submit to ALLAH, to affirm Him even if reason is confronted with superficial inconsistencies which can only be resolved in and by ALLAH Himself. 

Moreover, it seems that with His revelation, ALLAH did more than just bring the final law for humanity. The recital itself is testing those who are confronted with it ... 

"So We have appointed to every prophet an enemy ; among Satans of men and jinn, they reveal tawdry speech to each other, all as a delusion. Yet, had your Lord willed, they would never have done it."

The Koran explains how ALLAH's messengers are tested and also test. The Old Testament introduced prophets who were called by the Lord to utter falsehood (1 Kings 22:21-22). They have to be distinguished from false prophets, i.e. crooks who "reveal" something without the backing of the Lord (Ezechiel, 13:3 & 6). In the Koran, a distinction is made between confirmed signs and allegorical ones. 

The latter were revealed to test the believers and to distinguish between them : 

"It is He who sent down to you the book. Among its verses, some are firmly established and contain the essence of the book, and others are allegorical. Those whose hearts swerve follow the ambiguous part, desiring dissension, and desiring its interpretation. But none save ALLAH knows its interpretation. Those firmly rooted in knowledge will say : 'We believe in the book, all it contains is from our Lord.' Nobody remembers, but men possessed of minds."

Those who fall in the trap see their sins increased. The others witness how the demonical words are eliminated. Hence, the firmly establised verses are the essence of the recital, whereas the allegorical ones are secundary and marginal, intended to test the believers. The Satanical revelations are a temptation too but eventually they are eliminated. 

"Not once did We sent a messenger or prophet before you or Satan suggested errors to him in the recitation of a divine book. But ALLAH annuls what Satan casts and then He confirms His signs. Surely ALLAH is All-knowing, All-wise. 
But ALLAH permits this so that what Satan casts may be a trial for those whose hearts are sick and hard. The evildoers are plunged into a wide schism. This so that they who have been given the science may know that it is the truth from your Lord and believe in it, so that their hearts be humble unto Him. ALLAH ever guides those who believe towards the straight path."


§ 5 Muhammad's limitations, the lost texts and interpolation.

The Koran tells the story of the pressures felt by Muhammad. His enemies tried to change his mind or claim to have had revelations too. Muhammad hesitated to reveal certain verses, was taught by ALLAH how to speak, forgot verses and/or was made to forget them (by ALLAH) and, according to tradition, was asked by Zaid ibn Thâbit (one of his secretaries) to add verses. Some of them just changed his words around ... 

The Koran also makes clear that Muhammad is a mortal human who therefore is bound to make mistakes. Hence, ALLAH admonitions his prophet when the latter does a mistake (like talking to a rich man while leaving a blind one outside). The distinction between all the words of ALLAH and the words revealed in the Koran is maintained :

"Say : 'If the sea were ink to write the words of ALLAH, the sea would be spent before they are spent, even though We brought another sea the like of it.'"
"If all the trees on earth were pens, and the seven seas ink, yet the words ALLAH would not be spent. ALLAH is All-Mighty, All-Wise."

The Koran is just a divine drop of water facing the oceans of Divine Words. So who is able  to maintain that the Koran contains the science of the universe ? Moreover, tradition itself teaches that a lot of texts were lost. Muhammad's wife Aisha said that sûra 33 had 200 verses instead of the 71 today. The same is true for sûra's 2, 9, 15 & 24 ... In the corpus of Ubayy, two sûra's more are present than in the canon of Uthmân. Both resemble the first sûra and could have been omitted for that reason. In the recension of Ibn Mas'ûd, both are rejected, together with sûra's 1, 113 and 114 ! Finally, there is the question of interpolation.

Tradition has never hid the fact that interpolations happened. These were seen as authentic passages of the Koran by virtue of the fact that Gabriel is said to have dictated to Muhammad the places were they had to be inserted. This scenario clearly points to corrections a posteriori. Hence, the majority of sûra's of the koranic canon were formed by aggregates of revelations, making them into heterogeneous compositions ...

§ 6 The variations.

Ergo, the unity of koranic revelation is broken up by the fundamental distinction between a literal revelation and one of sense only. Moreover, purely literal differentiations prevail in the copy because of a variety of literal expressions, causing the literal meaning to be multiple. This is the theory advanced by traditionalists as "the seven letters" or "the seven readings", based on a hadîth told by Utmân and attributed to Muhammad : "The Koran came down according to seven letters."

Suyûtî explains that this has been interpreted in fourty ways ! Among these, Ibn Qutayba explains the seven letters as seven "modes of variation" in :

  1. the declination without changing the sense ;

  2. the tenses of the verbs ;

  3. the diacritical signs on identical graphisms ;

  4. the letters which are near in graphism ;

  5. the place of groups of words in a sentence ;

  6. the text itself because of addition or suppression of words ;

  7. the words according to their synonyms. 

Other traditionalists advanced other differentiations, like the one between gender, number and pronunciation (Al-Râzî). Ibn Hanbal conjectured that every word in the Koran may be replaced by seven synonyms ... Ubayy, one of the most important scribes of Muhammad, established the legitimacy of an infinite freedom of variations, except if this led to contradictions and counter-sense (like changing chastisement for pardon - cf. Umar). 

The story goes that one evening, after diner had been offered to him by Abû Bakr, Muhammad was walking with Umar. He heard a man, called Ibn Umm Abd, reciting the Koran in a very particular, personal manner. "Who has said," Muhammad asked Umar, "to read the Koran in its original form ('ratb'), as it descended ? That they read it as Ibn Umm Abd reads it !" This anecdote clearly shows that Muhammad himself distinguished between an original state of the text and a worked state. The original form is associated with "ratb", or fresh dates, called to be modified and corrected.

§ 7 A recitation in Arab.

The Koran confirms that the copy of the guarded tablet was meant to be in Arab because the Arabs had not yet received a revelation in their own language. Moreover, nobody would have believed Muhammad if his revelation would have come down in another language altogether.

"We have sent it down from heaven as an Arabic Koran so that you may understand it."
"If We had made this Koran a book written in a foreign language, they would have said : 'If, at least, its signs had been distinguished ! But what ? It is a book in a foreign language and the one who teaches it speaks Arabic ?' Answer them : 'It is a guidance and a healing to those who believe. But in the ears of those who do not believe is a heaviness, and they do not see it. They are like those called from far away.'"

2.2 Extra-textual evidence : the verses, sûra's, preamble, mysterious letters, the bismala.

Without going into the scholarly details of the matter, it should be mentioned that the Koran as we know it today is the result of the work of redactors. The division of the text in verses had liturgical purposes and does not correspond with the original situation. The same goes for the chapters ... Let us try to summarize this process.

§ 1 The verse : a set of revealed signs.

The word "âya" (used 382 times in the Koran), meaning "Divine sign", may indicate a miraculous event, a decree or any other manifestation of the Divine will. It points to the essence of the revealed text, for the Koran itself is a Divine sign, commanding respect, obedience and bringing faith. In that sense, every word of the revealed text is a sign.

If these words are put together to form a textual division or set, the notion of verse emerges. Indeed, before the Koran came into existence as one text of more than 6000 verses long, it existed as individual carriers which showed no organic relationships and contained no perspective on their unity as one Koran. Hence, the revelation was multiple ... The idea of bringing these elements together met with resistance. "How would I dare to do a thing the prophet himself did not do ?" asked Abû Bakr when Umar proposed him the project. Even Zayd ibn Thâbit was at first scandalized, but he eventually accepted the task. The order of the verses has been fixed only late, namely during the Omayyad dynasty.

§ 2 The sûra : a chapter of revealed themes.

In the Koran itself, the word "sûra" (mentioned 9 times) is used not to indicate a textual division or chapter, but a revealed text. This implies that the real standard of koranic revelation is a particular theme or subject (i.e. a set of verses). Most chapters however contain a multitude of revelations covering different subjects. Each of these, in its original koranic sense, is a unity of revelation, or a "sûra". 

Only after Muhammad died did the word "âya" designate a subdivision of the sûra's. The varying length of the latter can be explained by the change in style between the beginning of the revelation (with its verses of one word only) and its end (with verses of a page). It is likely that in the first phase of the redaction, sections of revealed text (i.e. "sûra" in the koranic sense) were not provided with isolated letters and preambles. These "floating" chapters were inserted in the collections of the second phase, which were fractionated (in 29 fractions headed by the isolated letters ?). 

In the third phase, that of the constitution of the actual "vulgate", they remained part of existing chapters (and were grouped together) or constituted new individual chapters. The redactors can be felt at work in the choice of the titles and in the order of the chapters. The scribes of the first century AH (the Hegira of 622 CE) used the formula "end of sûra x". Then it became : "end of sûra X and beginning of sûra y". Eventually, only the last part was retained, stabilizing as : "sûra x". The titles of the chapters were added later than the isolated letters. Their order, from the longest to the shortest, was introduced by the canonical "vulgate" of Uthmân.

§ 3 The isolated letters : original divisions.

Only 29 of the 114 chapters begin with groups of letters which are isolated. Different hypothesis have been put forward, giving them numerological, historical or geographical meaning. Some have associated them with the Divine Names, whereas others understand them as being part of the title of the chapter. 

The study of these letters suggested to scholars like Welch, Loth, Nöldeke, Schwally, Bell and Jones that they are an integral part of the revealed text. Others doubt this. For Sfar they played an important role in the elaboration of the chapters, i.e. they are criteria to classify the chapters. Welch showed that the letters used were selected because of the graphism of the Arabic letters in the time of Muhammad. Hence, the isolated letters are the earliest witnesses of the organizational concerns which sprang into life as soon as the revelation had to be written down. Hence, the chapters are the result of dividing the first collections into smaller fractions, a process which was assisted by the letters.

For the vulgate, the process can be summarized as follows :

The unity of revelation is a sign ("âya") or theme. Each sign or theme is a set of verses. Each "sûra" (chapters or series) is a set of signs or themes. 

§ 4 The preamble : introducting a chapter.

The preambles of the Koran belong to an ancient Oriental literary tradition of which we also find proof in the literature of Ancient Egypt. They are placed at the beginning of a chapter and introduce the theme which immediately follows it. However, the preamble is concerned with this theme alone, suggesting that new themes were added to the chapters a posteriori. 

It is unknown whether these additions happened during the lifetime of Muhammad or afterwards. Hence, the proof that the individual revelations were divided into chapters is given by the preamble, announcing the nature of the revelation or the theme at hand. It is probable that these introductory formulæ were put there after the collection of all the units of revelation (or signs) into chapters had been completed. The abence of the bismala in chapter 9 in the redaction of Uthmân was for example caused by the resemblance between this chapter and chapter 8 : "That is the reason why I did not separate these two chapters by the formula of the bismala." The fact that preambles sometimes also occur in the middle of a chapter evidences that the sign at hand once was an individual chapter which got integrated in another chapter when new collections ensued. All of this points to a loose compositional structure based on the individual signs.

§ 5 The "bismala".

All chapters, except one (namely chapter 9), are headed by : "In the Name of ALLAH, the Merciful, the Compassionate." This formula was probably also introduced after the collection of signs into chapters had been finalized. Tradition explains that Muhammad did not recite the "bismala" in-between the chapters. Neither did Hamza (one of the seven canonical reciters) and this because (according to Qaysî) he did not consider it to be a verse. The isolated letters and the bismala show that they belong to a later phase, when the necessity was felt to incorporate into the canonical text elements which had not belonged to the revelation in the first place, but which were part of the tools used by the first redactors to organize the multiple units of revealed text into units needed in the liturgy.


The Koran as we know it today is a composition of signs or sets of verses revealed to Muhammad in the course of his prophetic life, work & teaching as separate units of revelation in time. Each sign containing verses which deal with the same theme and which vary in length (from one word to one page). It is probable that during Muhmmad's lifetime, small units with identical themes were put together. Proto-chapters of a book emerged which still had to be collected to form a physical unity.

During his lifetime, some bits and pieces were probably written down on various media (not to fashion a book, but to help those with weak memories). No book or Koran as we know it today ensued. Why ? The prophet himself was the best example the believers had and moreover he was their living point of reference, a person to whom all questions could be addressed to. He did not order such a collection ...

However, to organize this growing Muslim community after his death, a new focus became necessary : the revealed texts themselves. Thus, the unity of this revelation became the most important concern. Several critical studies identified the compositional phases at work before the actual canon of Uthmân emerged. These stages explain the presence of compositional tools like the chapters, the isolated letters, the titles and the bismala. Moreover, collections which differed from each other ensued and these variations were also related to contents. Texts were omitted and others were interpolated. The result was the presence of several authoritative collections (used in the major cities of the emerging Islam).

It is clear that although no other book than the canonical collection had to survive (cf. Uthmân's order to burn all others except his), several alternative collections saw the light and continued to be used ... So we may conclude that the Recital is not a literal copy of the celestial one. Neither is the canonical copy a literal transcription of the spoken words revealed to Muhammad as "fresh dates"

Hence, besides the differences between the Recital and the celestial book announced by the Koran itself (together with the other intra-textual evidence), extra-textual evidence makes it very likely that differences between the original collections and the canonical one continued to exist after the latter was sanctified by the Sunnite community. 

These critical remarks however do not eliminate the fact that :

  1. those in charge with the original collections knew or had known the prophet personally ;

  2. they started collecting the revelations shortly after Muhammad had died ;

  3. they did not had to choose between texts which contained themes which radically contradicted themselves (like changing "pardon" for "retribution") & 

  4. they were motivated by no other reason than to establish a reliable text which could function as a guideline for a Muslim nation in state of chock and dismay (they could not believe that Muhammad had disappeared). 

Compare this with what happened when the narrative gospels were formed (invented ?). Only Matthew and John knew Jesus personally, but both of their gospels were probably written by somebody else. The four narrative gospels were written decades after Jesus died (ca. 30 A.D.). The Gospel of Mark, which was the first, was written between 75 & 80 A.D. (dated by Catholicism : 64 A.D.), whereas that of John (the latest) was composed more than half a century after the facts. It contained enough gnostic material to be rejected by second century centrist (i.e. Roman catholic) theologians. Moreover, the Christ-myth developed in these gospels is not confirmed by the Q-source they used and incorporated.The original teachings of Jesus stand next to inventions and mythological constructions which were derived from a variety of sources, foremost Jewish (like Philo of Alexandria) but also pagan of origin (Greek philosophy, mystery-cults and Persian religions). 

The Didache (the first catechesis probably written in Galilea at the turn of the first century) proves that the Jewish Christians of the first century held different views than those expressed in the narrative gospels. Both the Greco-Romans as well as the Hellenized Jews were far more civilized than the Arab Muslims of the first hour and could therefore easily turn for inspiration to the cultures around them to elaborate their own fancy superstructures. In fact, some Jewish Christians doubted whether Christ had come to save the gentiles (as Paul claimed). They were all circumcised, continued this practice among them and went to the temple of Jeruzalem to offer and pray ...

Moreover, in the Didache, prophecy played an important role. It directly influenced the making of Christian theology as well as its first liturgy (the practice of the eucharist). These Christians believed that Jesus would return in their lifetimes (the "parousia"). Hence, their theology was not the same as that developed by those second century Christians who were confronted with a variety of Christianities & sects. False prophets are mentioned in the Didache, but the notion of heresy emerged only mid-second century (to reject gnosticism, Montanism and other forms of Christianity besides the Roman catholic centrists). However, as early as the first century, gnostic currents were active (cf. Gospel of Thomas). And these elaborated a different metaphysical outlook on Christ. These differences increased. In the middle of the second century, various Christian sects propagated non-centrist views, each proposing a different Christ ... (in some sects, the function of the spiritual leader of the community, the over-seer or bishop changed in every service and was determined by chance). Hence, at the end of the second century an enormous contradictory Christian literature had been composed. 

When these different views are compared, we can only conclude that the teaching of the historical Jesus (as expressed in the earliest layer of the Q-source, called Q1) had been largely replaced by the conflicting theologies of the believers. Only after the canonical view was implemented in the West "de manu militari" and motivated by the politics of Constantine, did Europe become catholic ... and the conflicting texts were burned and/or forced to go underground (cf. the Nag Hammadi library).

It is true that shortly after Muhammad had died, different fractions rose (they had already been present before, but had been kept at peace by virtue of the charisma of the living prophet). But their differences were largely theo-political and did not touch the core of koranic theology, namely the unity of ALLAH. Nobody doubted that ALLAH was One and that there was no deity next to him (the question whether Jesus was God or not continued to trouble Christianity for many centuries after Jesus physically disappeared). None of these Muslim fractions re-introduced the "daughters of ALLAH". 

Indeed, the conflict between Sunnites and Shiites had everything to do with the status of the leader of the community, not with the major theological issues (unity of ALLAH, angels, last day, heaven & hell, prayer, alms, pilgrimage, fast, etc.). Indirectly, however, the status of the leader did influence the interpretation of the Koran. For the Shiites, the inspired leader had the last word in everything, whereas the Sunnites stressed the importance of the Sunna of the prophet and the consensus arrived at by the Muslims. 

Consider the differences of opinion regarding Christ between for example the Gospel of Mark and the works of the Christian gnostic Valentianus. They are huge compared with the variations evidenced by the different collections and the canonical text of the Koran. Hence, the revelations given to Muhammad have come to us without that their existing variations substantially clouded their original koranic meaning. But this original meaning is not a priori the celestial one ! 

3. The 12 hermeneutical levels of a koranic critique of Islam.

The prophets Moses and Muhammad with archangel Gabriel (Museum für Islamitische Kunst - Berlin).

A revelation is a Divine sign which is sent down by ALLAH from heaven to earth. 

This does not arrive here directly from ALLAH, for nobody witnesses the Face of ALLAH.

ALLAH created the worlds by writing with His Pen on the Table. Hence, the origin of everything created is found in the Divine Names of ALLAH. 

The scope of the metaphysics involved is suggested by the following hermeneutical table. 

It has a celestial (yellow), an angelico-revelatoric (white) and a man-made (grey) register :



1 the celestial Pen & Table ALLAH creates all through His Names
2 the celestial library of ALLAH ALLAH is the Author of all the scriptures explaining His Wish to all peoples
3 the celestial guarded tablet origin of the Muhammadan revelation
4 the archangelical sense of the celestial tablet the angelic understanding of Gabriel of the celestial original
5 prophet Muhammad's angelical sense of Gabriel's words  Muhammad's recital of the Arab words brought down upon his heart by Gabriel
6 the essence of the book the unchanging essence of these signs revealed to Muhammad
7 the allegorical verses the changing contents of the signs revealed to Muhammad
8 the abrogated & Iblis verses the pitfalls & difficulties related to human understanding of parts of these signs
9 the original redaction of the signs the Koran : original collections of these signs under Abu Bakr
10 the canon and the alternative versions Uthmân and the variety of collections of these signs in Islamic tradition
11 the Arab recitation of the text the art & science of the liturgical recitation of one of these major collections
12 the daily recitation of each believer the sense of the Koran to each believer

The three registers (Divine, angelical, human) incorporate the fact that the interpretation of the Koran belongs to ALLAH alone. The first major step being the assimilation of the sense of the guarded tablet by Gabriel. Even he did not know its absolute interpretation (i.e. its sense in the light of all possible revelations and their co-relative books, to be attributed to ALLAH alone). He did grasp the sense of the guarded tablet and transmitted this as such to Muhammad. 

This extraordinary ability being Gabriel's Divine side, especially related to the fact of revelation as such. As Muhammad was a human, as were all prophets, his revelatoric propensities were angelical (not archangelical). So in the Koran, Muhammad is called the "messenger", but Gabriel "rasul karim" or perfect messenger (suggestive of the major -arch- role played by Gabriel in the transmission of the sense of ALLAH's guarded tablet and probably of other spiritual texts out of the Divine library as well). The extraordinary fact of Muhammad's capacity to read the Arabic words revealed to him by Gabriel and the subsequent maturation of this capacity (between 610 and 632 CE) , being the distinguishing factor here.   

During the 22 years of Muhammad's prophetic life, the dynamical features of the contents of the recital brought by Muhammad became apparent. The later Koran evidences this in many places. The distinctions between guarded tablet and recital, essence and allegory, in effect and abrogated mark the extend of this movement and the complexity of the matter. Ancient Egyptian, Judaic,  neo-Platonic & Christian streaks are present, distinguishing it from the inspired (read : jinn-possessed) poetry of pre-Islamic Arabia. An extraordinary austere & radical monotheism is developed. This being the backbone around which all the various movements of the revelation revolve. Austere, because all positions eventually have to bring us back to the Oneness of the Absolute, in which the Face (or essence) of ALLAH is only for ALLAH. Radical, because no other divinities are accepted next to ALLAH. The Koran often allows the deities to exist story-wise, so that they may end up saying to their worshippers : "We never told you to worship us. For we submit to ALLAH. But you did not listen." The same figure of speech is used regarding Iblis and his demons. At the end of the day (i.e. on the day of doom) they laugh with those who revered them, for only ALLAH is worthy of worship (as they know). So they only fooled themselves.

The signs brought by Muhammad to his people were not collected and gathered together in one book. Muhammad never ordered his secretaries to write down and collect his many revelations in one book. Such an act would in a way "close" the revelation, which was apparently ongoing as long as Muhammad was alive. Muhammad himself was the "unity" around which the Muslim community was erected. When he died, his word inevitably became that "unity", which prompted the redaction of the many signs. If we may believe tradition on this, some signs were inscribed on various materials (original texts) but also in the "hearts of men" (memory). The legendary redaction of Zaid under Abu Bakr was meant to be a collection of the original writings, for to find experts to recite the Koran was not as difficult as "removing a mountain". However, to collect all the original texts (written in the presence of Muhammad but never collected into one book) was not an easy task. The idea however that a complete text existed "in memory" and not in writing (so that all the compositional structures such as the sûras, their titles and contents are original) is left by critical scholarship. The basic koranic unit of revelation is therefore the "sign" or thematic set of "verses".

Koran : sûra 27, the Ant, verses 36-39
North African text in Maghrebi-script, 12th CE - Spink College - London.

Perhaps the redactions made after Muhammad died, did bear his "nihil obstat" seal. The fact that fifteen primary codices exist, indicates the contrary. The schisms in Islam did also not improve the situation, nor do the actual divisions. One of the solutions out of this, being each believer's honest experience of the Koran and its Author. In the latter case, one must be aware of the possibility of interpolation, especially when the issue is not repeated in different chapters and other contexts. Indeed, the fact that Muhammad had 22 years to recite, his "original" (of memory) contained the essence over and over again intermixed with issues which were important at hand. Hence, if extremely important matters are only mentioned once (or conflict with other signs or general themes), chances are high that they do not belong to the arabesque structure of the "original" recitation and might be put there either as a safeguard or trap, or perhaps later for political reasons, such as the consolidation of horizontal power.

4. The vertical approach of the "fact of spirituality".

4.1 Some general considerations.

All human beings are, at some point in their existence, confronted with the unconditional and the unbounded. This need to transcend limitations has been understood since Plato as one of the major characteristic of the human race. It is true that we share this with other living beings, who -under the pressures of evolution- are forced to battle with the boundaries imposed to them by nature. Moving beyond borders is essential to life as a whole to win this war with evolution and erect strong architectures in the process.

However, only the human is able to transcend in a way which defies the possibilities of the other creatures on this planet. In fact, highly intelligent systems only survive as the result of growth-through-conflict, and the ability to autoregulate their internal structures and operators in the light of changed environmental circumstances. The human forms of transcendence, i.e. the different roads taken by humanity (as a whole or in part) to arrive beyond the treshold of crisis, turbulence and catastrophe and attain relative stability are multiple, the two fundamental ones being language (the ability to communicate knowledge) and culture. But they are many. To study these forms is one way to understand the many civilizations this planet has carried. 

Since the French Revolution, the organs of power of the Western world have been radically secularized in order to free Europe from the chains of Christian fundamentalism. The so-called "religious forms of transcendence" have been distinguished from other modes, ways or means to be in touch with the "beyond", like science, art, humanism, erotism and the short trills offered by consumerism. Atheist forms of religiosity were also developed. These secular forms are contrasted with religious forms precisely because their fulfillment does not reach beyond physical death but instead stress the importance of individual freedom and expression within the framework of democracy and human rights & obligations right here on Earth and possibly today. Because of this secularization, the intolerable forms of religious oppression and coercion have dwindled in the West. As a result every individual has received his or her religious freedom and nobody can be discriminated on the basis of their adherence to any of the numerous faiths.

The traditional & systematic forms of transcendence proposed by many religions, however, never limit their scope to a good life lived on Earth only, but instead connect the post-mortem state of a human consciousness with his or her activities during life here. This means that eternity is considered to be more important than temporality, although our life here is truly transient. This also implies that human responsibility is transferred from today to the Last Day ... Those who have sowed good deeds will reap good fortune, while those who do evil will see the little that they have being taken away from them, perhaps in this life, but certainly in the next. Poverty and a denial of this world are considered essential to transcend the conditions of our life on Earth. Realizing the spiritual truths of heaven & hell is seen as essential to be able to transcend the world and find salvation "for ever and ever". 

In the same line of thinking, the life of an individual is considered to be less important than the community of believers. The traditional religious forms of transcendence promote the collective, which shows their political rather than their spiritual origin. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam these kind of considerations are often heard. As explained above, most collective religious forms of transcendence are superstructures which elaborate the revelations of their founding mystic. As such, they are limited by the same conditions & limitations which pertain to superstructures in general. But, as mystical experiences have degrees of maturity, it is very likely that some religious forms of transcendence are less a genuine expression of the Will of the Absolute than others. Instead, they reflect the ideosyncratic features of this incomplete, imperfect experience of the Divine. Hence, any superstructure raised upon these immature forms, will undoubtedly show identical weaknesses and thus at times draw spiritually irrelevant conclusions. This is of course unacceptable. 

No human soul is the plaything of another human soul, especially not when its salvation in the light of eternity is at stake. At this point, let me distinguish between individual and collective forms of spirituality. The religions "of the book" are clear examples of forms of transcendence which a priori involve a collectivity. The Jews exhalt their race, the Christians revere the "mystical body of Christ" and the Muslims live according to the "sunna" of their prophet, considered to be a model for all of humanity to follow and dream of the "umma" or unity of all Muslims. In these forms, the individual is submerged in an existing tradition, and supposed to find his or her place in the community by adhering to the tenets of its theology, soteriology, ethics and the like. Alternative mystical revelations are of course shunned and if they occur, they are marginalized or persecuted. Individual spirituality can never outlaw the established pathways, and if it does, it is considered as heretical and should if possible be destroyed.

Is individualized spirituality an alternative ? In Hindu yoga, the yogin/pupil relationship is essential. The interactions taking place there, may serve to discover the spiritual imperative. In some immature cases, unconditional surrender is expected from the disciple (cf. "bhakti" yoga), leading to other forms of abuse, but this is not a conditio sine qua non, quite on the contrary. For in the so-called all-comprehensive "royal" yoga of Patañjali, surrender is but one aspect of the spiritual technology of enlightenment (or mystical experience) and when it occurs, it is directed towards the Supreme Being only. The worse that may happen (if he or she is not able to comply) is to be expelled from the "ashram" or spiritual community. But as there are many teachers around, one may always try again ... 

The yogi/pupil relationship is emancipatoric (the pupil is called to become a teacher). What we know about classical yoga is a historical reference for a postmodern approach and reconstruction of the early stages of spiritual technology or orthopraxis on the basis of a universal spiritual imperative assuring that each human being should be protected against spiritual abuse. Furthermore, because of the dangers involved, large yogic communities are out of the question. The genuine yogin has but a few pupils, the true "ashram" is not unlike a small family, a spiritual cell in the mystical body of spiritual humanity (humans seeking the direct experience of God) ... 

This brings us to the core of the message of this paragraph : genuine XXIth century spirituality does not emerge from collectivities and their fossilized traditions, but is the sole responsibility of the individual. In other words, the horizontal, intersubjective dimension is only important in the earliest stages of spiritual awakening. Its structures should be emancipatoric only (a kind of universal spiritual growth technology) and organized in a decentralized way. Hence, the horizon of initiative and initiation is put in place to stimulate and help to open up the vertical inner dialogue between the Absolute and every individual. In other words : explain to people the importance of having mystical experiences and assist them in such a way that they may reach, elaborate & sustain their vertical experiences to attain genuine spiritual maturity and -as a reflection of this- live a life in a permanent (horizontal) state of compassion and charity.

Only after this vertical contact has been realized (cf. "ascendat oratio, descendat gratia"), will one's individual horizon be filled with the hidden treasures received as a result of this exclusively individual experience (which may or may not have been prepared in small spiritual cells, providing shelter to the individual's mystic intent). Hence, the spirito-social dimension is given shape on the basis of individual spiritual merits. The fossilized remains of earlier builders of superstructures are left behind and understood as collective forms of religiosity which do not necessarily please God.

Hence, it is clear that the combination of a collective religious form with a soteriology projecting the ultimate goal of human existence beyond physical death (or in abstractions like a chosen people, a mystical body of Christ or a Muslim "umma"), is likely to demonize other expressions of human civilization and hence, at times, find pseudo-reasons to destroy the lives of innocent human beings. The history of Jewish, Christian and Muslim fanatics have proved this point with great clarity and this  was and remains unacceptable. These collective forms of ignorance are the negative example par excellence which has made the return of a horizontal, political organization of religious communities (as theocracies) impossible in genuine democracies. They confirmed the importance of consequent secularization.

4.2 The case of Islam.

Each of the three religions "of the book" developed different theo-political perspectives : Judaism teaches that the people of Israel are chosen by God to lead the world in the future Messianic age. They are the best of the best, a kind of spiritual master race ... This fraudulent notion has been the cause of most of their suffering and this kind of arrogant fundamentalism continues to thrive even today. The Christian is called to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, for the ultimate is not found in this world but in the next. The rejection of this world together with its "prince of darkness" and the dogma of primordial sin, make of any work in this world a forteriori a confrontation with the adversary. Charity is based on the love for Jesus Christ, believed to have given his life for the children of Israel (to complete the revelations) and for the whole world (in Paulinian theology). What is given to the smallest, is given to Christ himself ... 

The establisment of a just society is an integral part of Islamic theology. The Koran is very clear regarding this and it repeats the importance of the just redistribution of wealth over and over again. The presence of poverty and the fact that weak and needy people are forced to suffer because of the cruel neglect of the rich, is deemed unacceptable and an insult of ALLAH, who is Master on the Day of Justice and who gives to everybody their just wages. His main distributive principle being the righteous equilibrium between strong and weak, between rich and poor ... Commerce, trade and the adjacent notion of profit are not rejected as such, except if they lead to criminal disparities in the world and to a forgetfulness of ALLAH. And -as the Koran teaches- this neglect of ALLAH is more likely to befall wealthy people than poor. For wealth is a distraction given by ALLAH to test the soul, and most are unthankful and hence fail. The rich are called to eliminate suffering, not to cause it ... But most of them corrupt the world, make others suffer and are unable to manage their own souls, leading to their eventual downfall.

Let us, to help this critical investigation, distinguish between, on the one hand, the koranic message and, on the other hand, the Islamic traditions which saw the light after the prophet died. This distinction is warranted by the fact that shortly after this death, the conflicts between the many fractions rose. These differences had as object the different collections of the Recital, the fundamental question of leadership and the ways to regulate and organize the rapidly expanding community (in the first decades of the 8th century, Islam had already crossed the French Pyrenees). 

The Koran contains both general and specific judical regulations. One of these general laws prescribes that Muslims should give alms. No beggar should be refused. Giving alms became one of the so-called "five pillars of Islam", together with the declaration of unity, the daily prayers, the fast during the holy month and the pilgrimage to Mecca. The specific regulations involve laws organizing marriage, inheritances, position of women, rules for retaliation and the like. It may well be that these specific laws are largely historical and thus valid for the original Muslim community only (although traditionalists will argue otherwise). But surely this is not the case for the general law, repeated often in the Koran and regulating the righteous distribution of wealth in the community and eventually in the world. 

Indeed, poverty and social injustice have to be taken out. The natural egoism of people and their need to dominate their fellow human beings lead to injustice and the differences between rich and poor. Although this distinction is unavoidable, due to the natural differences between people, each Muslim is called to help the poor and the needy and to eliminate the excesses caused by the unthankful. Trade and commerce (the major origin of wealth) have to be submitted to extensive controls and regulations which make sure that the gap between rich and poor does not become outrageous (as it is for example today). The "free" market, the principle par excellence of neo-capitalism, is therefore in conflict with the Koran ... 

For the traditionalists, this noble goal can only be achieved if all koranic laws are used to give form to the Islamic state. This implies democracy and a free market, but not without the controls in the hand of religious authorities able to veto any rule which is in conflict with the Koran. As democrats, we can not limit the wish of a community to organize their lives according to religious laws, except if these are in conflict with the universal declaration on human rights (like the Taliban interpretation of Islam were women were humiliated and forbidden to study). Like Tibetan Buddhists or Zionists, Muslims have the right to form a community and live according to laws derived from the Koran. But if people choose for this, then clearly the endeavor has to be (locally) in accord with the majority (everybody being able to make a free choice in favor of an Islamic state) and (globally) with the dignity of human beings. Unfortunately, at least four koranic laws do not satisfy these conditions, namely the punishment for adultery (100 lashes of the wip in public), theft (severing of hands), the beating of women and the explicit acceptance of slavery. In a more general way, the ontological differences proposed between men and women should also be criticized ...

"Men are the managers of the affairs of women for reason of the qualities with which ALLAH has elevated the one over the other, and because men expend of their property to them. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding, when their husbands are absent, that what ALLAH ordered to conserve intact. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish, banish them to their own couches, and beat them. If as soon as they obey you, look not for any way against them. ALLAH is All-high, All-great."

Does the conflict between these verses and the universal declaration on human rights not show that these specific rules do not belong to the essence of the Koran ? Is it possible that certain regulations (like those occuring only once) were actually added after Muhammad died ? How to be absolutely sure that this did not happen ? Surely ALLAH does not want us to erect a society on analogical and circumstancial teachings ? Were they put in there to test the believers after their point of reference vanished ? Or are they inventions sanctified by the Ommayads (the role played by the founder of this first Islamic dynasty, Mu'awiyah, can be compared with that of Constantine in Europe) ? 

Critical investigations evidence that the history of the emergence of the Recital does not eliminate the possibility of later additions, quite on the contrary. And as the book itself does not provide us with the keys to decide which verses are essential and which are allegorical, no unambigeous moral system applicable to a collective can be safely rooted in them. This explains the need to introduce scholarly interpretations to "solve" this problem (the consensus of the learned Sunnites) or to deify the (Shiite) leader. This strategy was followed several times in the course of 15 centuries of Islam. The result being that even today terrorists are able to justify their vile actions through uncritical, fideist Medieval interpretations of the Recital.

These groups represent the laws of the fractions, cutting the Recital into pieces to sell it or to make their own sacred text out of it to justify their own petty politics ... In the Koran, the consensus of the learned is not mentioned (neither is the circumcision which the Sunnites consider essential). And nowhere is Muhammad, the proto-type of all possible Muslim leadership, deified or considered as infallible. Quite on the contrary ! Nobody except ALLAH knows the interpretation of the Koran. No consensual view is therefore a priori the view of ALLAH (as is the case in Catholicism were the decisions of the body of bishops is automatically considered to be "sealed" by the Holy Spirit). In fact, one may ask whether the Recital did not descent to make an end to this practice of people to decide for God ! If this is the case, then surely many followers of Muhammad fell into the same trap as did Buddhists and Christians. 

Superstructures became more important than the actual mystical experience upon which they are erected. The horizontal structures put in place to organize the community of believers became more important than the vertical relationship between ALLAH and the individual believer, which should be the prime focus. Polytheism, which indeed vanished from Arabia, was thus replaced by a variety of collections, readings, traditions and interpretations. These distinctions continued to exist till today. Hence, the relative and historical opinions of Muslim scholars or Muslim leaders are always situational and tained by their own limitations. No universally valid system of governement can thus be erected upon their consensual views. Unlike the Christianity of Paul, the Koran does not teach that the elect may "seal" their personal opinions with the Holy Spirit. The spirit of holiness may inspire, but nobody can bear the load of another soul and each one of us will be individually addressed on the Last Day, the Day of Doom ...

4.3 The personal spiritual message of the Koran.

It goes without saying that the emergence of a genuine spiritual community was part of the koranic message. Togetherness characterized the believers, and together they tried to establish the world ALLAH wants, if necessary with the sword. But as the Koran alone did not suffice to organize everything, analogical thinking was called in to invent laws considered koranic. One is forced to conclude that the horizontal dimension of Islam did not receive form as a reflection of the vertical one. Instead, extra-koranic elements were introduced (like the Hadîth). They were deemed prescribed because reputed to be done or said by Muhammad. The Koran indeed stipulates that the prophet is to be listened to, but the problem is not Muhammad's authority in this, but the genuineness of the reports and the stories told. 

For example, the fact that, when Muhammad's life had arrived in its final stage, a lot of believers could not accept that he would really die, proves the point : the prophet (although mortal) was considered by a lot of people around him to be a kind of superman. It is this unkoranic projection which makes most superstructures introduced by the companions and the followers doubtful. Is it not dangerous to accept these stories if historical truth is sought ? Personal preferences creep in and the historical situation is distorted to the point of mythogenesis. 

The narrative gospels of the centrist Christians are another good example : the Roman traditionalists claims that they represent four perspectives on Christ but in truth these different stories contain flagrant contradictions and lead to a fundamentally irrational view on Jesus the Christ. In fact, this plurality of Christian gospels proves the principle : most people color the colorless water of mysticism with the color of the glass of their own vessel. This brings us back to the importance of the original elocutions ... Hence, one may understand why some scholars reject the hadîth's and stories attributed to Muhammad.

And what about the "consensus catholicus" ? "Ijma'", or universal agreement, probably the most important factor in defining what the Koran and the straight path imply, has itself remained the least clearly formulated religious institution of Islam. Modern criteria for communicative actions (cf. Habermas) show that a symmetrical discourse implies that nobody is coerced or limited (to say or not to say something). Democratic principles add to this that universal agreement reflects the will of the majority, so that in representational systems it has to be proved that those making the decisions really represent the community of believers. The Taliban conclave called together to decide whether Bin Laden would be given over or not is a good example. This conclave has not been assembled using democratic means and so nobody knew what the majority really wanted. The decision was made "top/down". Clearly, this is in conflict with the notion of a universal agreement, except if "universal" is only put in for rhetorical justication, and actually stands for the majority of those who detain political power, i.e. able to enforce their ideas "de manu militari".

In Roman Catholicism, the same happened. Although Vaticanum II stressed the importance of common believers to participate in the leadership of their church, the latter have no direct influence on who is their leader (this was not the case in early Christianity, appointing their overseers  democratically). However, the Roman Church never introduced universal agreement as a way to erect the Christian empire. It was totally dogmatic from the start and remains the only imperial order in existence today ... 

So, instead of thinking that the first Muslims (after Muhammad died) were better informed regarding how to organize their community than later believers (cf. the "isnads" of each "hadîth"), politicians had better focused on the direct contact between ALLAH and each individual believer. This would have resulted in a permanent reformation of the horizontal dimension as a function of the vertical one. Believers today would have the Koran and their personal spiritual experience of the signs of ALLAH instead of thousands of pages of laws considered holy (the Islamic "deposit of faith"), the dictates of Islamic authorities and the danger implied by fundamentalism and islamized terrorism. 

Only in Sufism is direct spiritual experience considered as essential. But Sufism was regarded by traditionalists as the cradle of heretical anti-islamic ideas & rituals. Furthermore, it was elitist, for common mystical experiences were excluded. The advanced mystic was a superior being, one who stood at the top of the pyramid of society ... This superiority-complex of some Islamic mystics (cf. Ibn'Arabî claiming to be the "seal of the saints") has sidetracked the original goal of Sufism : to serve ALLAH as perfectly as possible. So, as had been the case in Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity, the Islamic spirito-communal horizon determined the ways and modalities put at the disposal of the believers. This explains also why in Islam heresy saw the light and why some mystics were persecuted and even executed for having said or done things which were in conflict with the tenets developed by jurists and theologians. The latter rejected the self-manifestation of the Divine Names and hence transformed the "no second" theology into a fanatical, unkoranic view, acting even against those who annihilated themselves in ALLAH ! 

A good example of a doubtful superstructure is circumcision. Although nowhere mentioned in the Koran, no uncircumcized person is allowed to enter Mecca and perform the duties asked for by ALLAH in His Recital. This means that laws which are not part of the Recital were made to condition the performance of essential koranic prescriptions ! If ALLAH considers circumcision a condition sine qua non to enter Mecca and to walk the circumambulations, would the Recital not have mentioned this ? How can the general association of circumcision with the convenant of Abraham lawfully block the uncircumcized believer from going to Mecca and visit the Ka'aba? Does this not show that these post-koranic teachings were actually aiming at politically consolidating the emergent sense of community in the Arabic consciousness ? 

The history of Islam proves that its "deposit of faith" (traditions, laws, specifics of liturgy, philosophy, etc.) became nearly as important -if not more important- than the genuine adherence to the message of the Koran by each individual Muslim ... The same problem rose in early Christianity, but Paul was able to convince the pillar apostles of the church of Jeruzalem that gentile Christianity and circumcision were incompatible (did the fact that the gentile churches would pay the church of Jeruzalem help to convince the latter ?). In its first centuries, Islam too did not consider itself to be the religion of humanity. Just as it was claimed that Jesus only came for "the lost children of Israel", Muhammad was said to be the prophet of the Arabs, and not, as the Koran teaches, of the whole of humanity ! 

The most important prescription given in the Koran is to remember ALLAH. He or she who does this will be remembered by Him and this will radically change one's life. This remembrance is not a collective event, but part of one's individual piety. To pray daily is the prescribed koranic standard for this remembrance. But besides these prayers, (which are obligatory) the believer may remember ALLAH as much as he or she likes or is able to. Hence, the daily prayers (the number of which is not mentioned in the Koran) are a minimum minimorum. In fact, the five pillars of Islam are not defined in terms of the spirito-communal but as the activity of the individual (who may be assisted in this by others but this is optional). 

The declaration of unity, the prayer, alms, pilgrimage and the fast testify that the aim of ALLAH is to transform every individual (vertical) automatically resulting in a more just communal sense (horizontal). So the house of Muslim faith is built on individual spirituality. The biblical notion of a church (cf. the New Testament on the "mystical body of Christ") is hence absent in the Koran, stressing that each person will receive his or her wage, for ALLAH knows what is in the hearts of His believers and He will always recompense humans for what they have done ... That this spiritual activity may incite believers to come together is not rejected, quite on the contrary. The Koran teaches one to communicate, assist each other and work to establish a peaceful community, living in harmony with its neighbours.

5 A few characteristics of ritual, liturgic recitation.

The history of liturgic recitation starts in Ancient Egypt and was further developed in Judaism. It contrasts with the Summerian and Greek approach of the Divine. The latter was based on conjuration (words -mostly the name of a god or goddess- forcing the deities to act in accord with the will of the magus) and not on recitation (words re-enacting the original, mythical time of creation so that this original power may merge with and be helpful in the situation of man here and now). For example, as late as the 4th century A.D., Greek magicians (the "magoi") would invoke the Moon goddess and command her as follows : 

"Tu feras quelque chose, que tu le veuilles ou non,
parce que je connais ta lumière dans ses détails infimes
et que de tes actions belles je suis le célébrant, le serviteur et le témoin, ô vierge.
Ce qui doit être, il n'est pas possible de la fuir.
Cette chose, tu la feras, que tu le veuilles ou non, je te conjure ..."

Prière adressée à la Lune sur son déclin - Greek Papyrus IV (2241 - 2358), National Library, Paris, my italics.

In the religion of the Egyptians, rituals did not mediate between humanity and the gods, for the latter abided in the sky. Ritual action only took place between the gods themselves. As Pharaoh was the sole god living on Earth, he was the only one able to "face" the deities directly. Hence, all rituals were performed in his name. Pharaoh allowed the ritualists to assume the form of the local deity and recited certain words of power enabling this god or goddess to send its double ("ka") and/or soul ("ba") to dwell in the ritualists, the statues of the deities prepared beforehand and the place of worship. 

These words of power brought all ritual action back to the "first time", the mythical time of the creation of the world. The importance of intelligent (Sia) creative speech (Hu) able to produce extraordinary, magical (Heka) effects which fashion justice & truth (Maât) is clearly attested in the Pyramid Texts and in the Memphis Theology. The former evidence that both Re and Pharaoh possessed the Great Word. After insightful planning (Sia, taking place in the heart, i.e. the mind) they uttered this word of command (Hu) which is inherently protected against all resistances because of its supernatural, magical power (Heka) able to break all resistances and annul them. 

Without answering the question whether Judaism has been influenced by Ancient Egyptian thought (in particular New Kingdom theology), it should be noted that the notion that certain spiritual words give (eternal) life was not uncommon in Jewish spirituality. When a Jew blessed, he did so unlike a neo-Platonist or a (Persian) magician. For the "berakah" -the Jewish prayer-, unlike the magical prayers of Babylon or Greece, has a particular intentional structure. The Old Testament claims that the Divine revealed Its being to Moses by speaking Its Name in a Holy Fire. Hence, Israel "knows" (cf. "Daath") the Divine (YHVH the Elohîm), for He made a covenant -the Torah- with His chosen people, the Israelites. Because of this link forged between the Divine and His chosen ones (in the mythical time of the new beginning of the Israelites after its liberation), we may understand the "berakoth" as an expression of their mutual relationship sui generis. Hence, ideally Jewish prayers do not liberate "divine energy" trapped in the form of a sacrificial animal, nor command the "gods" by knowing their name, but form a continuous reply to the original Divine speech, using the Words of the original speech, and thus re-enacting the experience initiating the Mosaic covenant. 

Another characteristic of the "Great Word" in Judaism is its immediacy. Not only is this Word action (as it was in Ancient Egypt), personal intervention (the Divine letting Himself known), and Divine Presence, but, being the Word of Elohîm, it produced by its own virtues that which it announced. By uttering the Divine Word its meaning is realized. This characteristic is akin to "Heka", also automatically realizing the authoritative command based on insightful planning. So the "berakoth" answer YHVH Elohîm, directly manifesting the Divine intent of what has been said. They are more than supplications, invocations or magical commands, but immediate, direct & eternal Divine actions (theurgy) realizing the Plan of the Divine within the physical realm (containing Kether in Malkuth). 

So these prayers are theurgical acts. They constitute a deifying elocution of the abstract order of the Divine Word by those wise enough to answer their personal experience of the Divine by means of the Words given by the Divine. 

So the following stages are noted : 

  1. the Divine reveals Himself in original Words ;

  2. the Presence of the Divine is experienced by the individual (or the collective) ;

  3. prayers answer the Divine Presence using these original Divine Words ;

  4. the elocution of these Words immediately create what they intent : spiritualization. 

The Koran is called "a Recital" because it is not to be read as an ordinary text. To recite this Book, is, at best, a return to the original moment when a sign was brought to Muhammad by Gabriel. Tradition recorded the extraordinary state of mind he was brought in everytime a revelation was sent to him. Identical stories are told about the prophets of Israel. Comparative cultural anthropology too attested the trance-like states of Shamans and wizards. However, the Koran itself makes a clear distinction between pre-Islamic poets (inspired by jinns) and the revelations of Muhammad. 

"Shall I tell you who the Satans inspire ? They inspire the liar, he who is plunged into sin. Those who teach what they have heared : but most of them are liars. It is the poets that the perverse follow. Have you not seen how the poets like madman wander in every valley ? How they say what they do not do ? Save those who believe, who do righteous deeds, and who repeat the name of ALLAH without cease. The Koran has not been brought down by the Satans."

This distinction defines the major difference between Divine revelation and inspirations coming from other sources. These "poets" were the authors of pre-Islamic literature, and they too went into trance to utter their extraordinary words. However, they were not necessarily Muslims, i.e. believers in the unity and uniqueness of ALLAH. Their inspirations could therefore stem from evil jinns or Satans. Then they are like madmen, uttering words which are not backed by their own way of life. The same criterion can be found in the Didache, the first Christian catechesis, were the distinction between a false and genuine prophet is established on the basis of the correspondence between his words and his deeds. 

In the Koran however, this is not considered to be a sufficient reason ... Genuine poets repeat the Name of ALLAH constantly and by doing so they repell the Satans able to give pseudo-revelations. Hence, not the state of trance or for that matter any other extraordinary state of consciousness or paranormal feat is sufficient proof of the genuineness of spiritual inspirations. Only the spiritual intent of the poet, the fact that he or she refers everything to ALLAH, is a sufficient reason to guarantee its Divine source. And because trance-states are an open invitation to the Satans, they are mostly considered as rejectable ... In that line of reasoning, we find the rejection of alchohol or, for that matter, any substance altering the normal waking state.

Muhammad himself was considered mad by those adhering to the pre-Islamic polytheism of the "daughters of ALLAH". For them, he was another crazy poet, bringing a dangerous revelation, one rejecting the existence of divinities next to ALLAH. In Sufism, these states are common, but as Al-Junayd so eloquently explained, he who is his own teacher in these matters has taken Satan as his guide. And this will eventually lead to perdition (not for Satan, for he will reject this affiliation on the Last Day) ... The highest state is "trance-in-sobriety" ... In this sense, liturgical recitation stands between reading genuine spiritual poetry and having a direct revelation of the Divine. 

When a genuine revelation is recited, no insane poetical elements can creep in. And if, after a lot of practice, this recitation is well performed, another liturgically induced state of consciousness may emerge. During as well as after this ritual recitation, actual themes, situations and problems can be approached in this particular state of mind and solutions may be revealed ...

Finally, let us distinguish between recitation in spirit and truth versus recitation with sacrifice. In Ancient Egypt, the recitation of ritual texts was always accompanied by sacrifice, going from the libation of fresh water and incense to the sacrifice of hundreds of animals during the major festivities. This because the deities were supposed to exist in the sky. Their doubles (ka's) and souls (ba's) could dwell on Earth but this only if they were fed. Hence, liturgy without sacrifice was deemed totally useless, for no god or goddess would accept the requests if its subtle bodies had not received nourishment

In pre-synagogal Judaism, the holocaust of animals was part of the bloody temple service held in Jeruzalem. It was not enough to recite the Torah, for YHadonaiVH was pleased with these sacrifices. The notion of feeding the deity was absent. The reason for sacrifice was the fact that by slaughtering and offering his animals, the Jew proved his ability to relinquish his precious earthly goods for Adonai (cf. the story of Abraham and his son). In this way it became obvious that He and only He was the Lord. The roasted meat was eaten by the priests and the participants. After the destruction of the second temple, this sacrificial ritualism was abandoned because it was considered too sacred an act to be performed outside the temple

In synagogal liturgy, the service of the word stands alone and a recitation in spirit and truth prevails. Occasional sacrifices still occur, but not in the synagogal context. Suppose that Israel would be able to rebuild its temple (a very unlikely event). Would the ancient practice of the bloody holocaust of animals be reestablished ? Informed sources confirm that this would be the case. Hence, synagogal Judaism is not the next stage of Jewish spiritual practice, but only one which awaits the return of the Messiah who will reaffirm the ancient ways ... When asked why this kind of sacrifice is necessary, the pious Jew responds that it was commanded by the Creator, i.e. a justification based on a literal, uncritical reading of the Torah and other so-called "sacred" texts ...

However, it is beyond doubt that parts of the texts which were organized, edited and rewritten after the Israelites returned from their Babylonian captivity (Jeruzalem was looted in 587 BCE) and came under Persian rule (587 - 331 BCE) were of an earlier date (parts of Exodus and Deuteronomium were probably composed ca.1250 BCE). But how to know for sure which texts go back to the original (oral) composition ? What part of this oral original was already lost after the Babylonian capitivity ? Also, which contemporary influences were allowed to play a role in the redaction which took place at the time of Ezra ? What about the absence of punctuation ? Clearly Mozes could not have written about his own death & funeral ? Scholars agree that we do not know which sources were used. The fact that several editors were responsible is also very likely. Moreover, traces of the myths recited at Ur can be found in Genesis (cf. the parallel with the Babylonian poem of creation, the Enuma Elisj). And the influence of the literature of the New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt on some of these writings can also be established (cf. Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs). 

Under Persian rule, the Old Testament as we know it did not exist. In the Septuagint (the Alexandrian translation into Greek), the Name of God (YHadonaiVH Elohim) was badly translated and hence in the Greek Old Testament, a crucial theological nuance was lost (the plural "ALHYM" became the singular "Theos", and "YHVH" became "Kyrios", eclipsing the ineffable bi-polar nature of the Divine). Although Philo of Alexandria (a contempory of Jesus) thought that this translation was divinely inspired, it nevertheless shows the corrosive influence of Hellenism on original Judaism, forcing traditional Jews outside the walls of Jeruzalem and triggering more than one rebellious, desert fraction or fundamentalists avant la lettre. 

The presence of the Qumrân Scrolls (Dead Sea) shows that textual inventivity continued to grow (the first Qumrân text is dated ca.150 BCE) and that different opposing fractions (with their texts) existed. After the destruction of the second Temple (29th of August, 70 CE) all important elements of Jewish faith were recorded and after Rabbi Akiba (who was ca. twenty when Jeruzalem fell) the "final" redaction (incorporating different spelling and ornamentation of certain letters) became a sacred Temple of its own, treated with a reverence as if the Supreme had been personally at work here. Unfortunately, after the execution of Akiba by the Romans, only thousands of little pieces of paper found in a synagogue in Caïro was all that what was left of the Hebrew Bible as it existed in the centuries after Akiba's death ... 

In Catholic Christianity, the notion of sacrifice has been transformed in a very special way. It was believed that Christ, as the sole son of God, sacrificed himself for those who adhere to him (Paulinian thesis). During the eucharist, the officiating priest acts "in persona Christi" and repeats the original sacrifice in a bloodless way. Hence the priest (as Christ) sacrificed Himself again during each eucharist. Transsubstantiation added a realistic element to this, for by uttering the words spoken by Christ at the last supper (before being killed) over the bread and the cup, the priest (as Christ) changes the offerings of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ ... After this epiclesis (the exact moment of which remained a matter of dispute between the Western and Eastern churches), the fact that Christ died but was resuccitated is affirmed.

Although during Mass, the role of the "service of the word" is an important preliminary, it can not be said that the ritual recitations of the "Great Prayer" (after the Offertory) are devoid of sacrificial connotations. Quite on the contrary. Take away the sacrifice of Christ and Paulinian theology collapses. Later Protestant interpretations show that it is possible to remove the sacrificial component. The result being a "service of the word" which resembles synagogal practices, except for the verbal affimation of Christ's sacrifice & resurrection, which remained unaltered and can be seen as the heart of Christian faith.

The Koran prescribes occasional sacrifices, but the activities in the Mosk have always been devoid of it. Not unlike synagogal Judaism, Islamic liturgy is wholly verbal. The believers come together to perform their prayers and to listen to the liturgical recitation of some koranic verses by the imam, the person who leads the prayers. After this, the imam pronounces his sermon, intended to explain and actualize the meaning of the recited texts. No sacrificial elements creep in. Although the Koran prescribes certain occasional sacrifices, they do not belong to the "pillars" of Islam. On a grand scale they were introduced for a stated term only, namely for the Jews of the "ancient house" (22:34). Unlike Judaism, Islam never indulged in elaborated sacrificial practices. The most important obligation for the Muslim is to remember ALLAH and this through the repetition of His Name. 

"Be pure of faith. Do not associate anything with Him. For those who associate anything with ALLAH are like him who has fallen from heaven and the birds snatch him away, or the wind sweeps him headlong into a far away place. It shall be like this. He who venerates ALLAH's waymarks does a deed that belongs to the piety of the heart. In the sacrificial animals are many things which are profitable to you for a stated term. Thereafter their lawful place of sacrifice is by the ancient house. We have appointed for every nation a holy rite, so that they may mention ALLAH's name over such beasts of the flocks as provided by Him. Your ALLAH is the unique ALLAH. So to Him surrender. And you, Muhammad, give good tidings to the humble." 

Is this good tiding the fact that mentioning ALLAH's Name is all that matters ? If the slaughter of animals is considered essential to please ALLAH, then surely the Lord would be limited by the fire of the holocaust. This would be in contradiction with His oneness and uniqueness ... Sacrificial activity indeed only serves the purpose of being an important object (to the believer) over which His Name may be mentioned. It is also part of the obligation to feed the poor, for instead of burning everything, the sacrificed animal should be used to aleviate the situation of the needy.

For the true believers, an external sacrificial object is not really necessary, for all that matters is the remembrance of ALLAH. Of course, the Koran does not deny that for some people such an object of sacrifice may been important, but is it surely not considered essential in the same way as the sacrificial activity of the Ancient Egyptians, the pre-synagogal Jews or the Christians ...

6 Elements of the arabesque.

In the Koran we read :

"It is He who let the two seas come near, the one with sweet water which is grateful to taste, and the other with salt water, which is bitter to the tongue. Between them He set an insurmountable barrier."

"The two seas are not equal. The one is sweet, grateful to taste, delicious to drink, and the other is salt, bitter to the tongue. Yet of both you eat fresh flesh, and bring forth out of them ornaments to wear. You may see ships cleaving through it, so that you may seek of His bounty. Perhaps you will be thankful. He makes the night to enter the day and the day to enter the night. He has subjected the sun and the moon, each of them running a stated term. That is ALLAH, your Lord. To Him belongs the kingdom and those you call upon, apart from Him, possess not so much as the skin of a date-stone."

"He separated the two seas that touch each other. Between them is a barrier so that they do not overpass."

The logic of the arabesque is an example of the "coincidentio oppositorum" discovered in mystical discourses all around the world. In Muslim thought however, it became the core of their superstructure. All divisions, also those between the Divine and creation, are ruled by this arabesque logic, or the symbolization of the fundamental dialectic apparent everywhere in creation and even beyond. Indeed, in Sufism, the Divine itself is a dual-unity of the essence of ALLAH (His Face) and His most beautiful Names. Ibn'Arabî distinguished between the "most holy emanation" (the Essence revealed as Divine Names) and the "holy emanation" (the Divine Names creating the worlds). The Divine Names (the "hidden treasure") themselves form an arabesque between the noble and the base Names. In creation too the same dialectic is witnessed, for all created objects are a mixture of light and darkness, good and evil, truth and falsehood.

In Muslim theology, only the Face of ALLAH is free from all possible duality, and represents the ineffable, unsaying transcendence beyond all possible affirmations and denials (cf. the "hypertheos" of ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite). Hence, only ALLAH is the truth and the real. He is the absolute neutral in which all equations, positive as well as negative, are rooted. Besides this syntax, the arabeque has definitely semantical intentions. Although everything except ALLAH's Face is organized as a dialectic, its "arabesque" nature is exemplified by the fact that both sides of the spectrum are put there by ALLAH and kept there by Him too. He divides the spectrum by means of an unsurmountable barrier. 

The fact that this barrier is there, shows that both sides need to be distinguished. But the fact that He makes it unsurmountable evidences the fact the He alone rules all divisions in a way no creature is able to supercede. The interplay of the two sides of the arabesque is only possible because ALLAH is the Lord of all divisions. The caleidoscopic dynamics unfolding when the divisions are maintained but put into motion allows every Name to find its locus of Self-expression. Everything tasteful and tasteless has its function and role to play. There is no division or ALLAH controls it. We have to accept that some of the water can not be drunk, although it is only tasteless from our perspective.

The arabesque of the two commands springs into mind. Firstly, ALLAH creates everything by His command "Be !". Chaos and order alike depend on this generative command, which is the expression of His Will. This is suggestive of the two seas, the sweet and the bitter. Both are under His command. Nothing happens in creation or ALLAH wills it to happen. Even what we would call the greatest misery is part of His Will. Secondly, ALLAH sends His messagers to inform humanity about the specific task ALLAH has prescribed for them, which is the expression of His Wish. Many revelations came down, a holy rite for every nation. This is the prescriptive command : "Be yourself !", implying for the human that he or she has to realize the Divine Names which make them exist so as to realize the perfection ALLAH has intended for them. 

The prescriptive command is the sweet sea, and suggests that humanity should leave part of creation untouched (the salt sea). Only ALLAH is able to divide both and so He alone is the arbiter that decides which evil befalls man. The Koran teaches that if a human decides to leave the bitter untouched, s/he will be given the sweet and protected from the bitter by the barrier of ALLAH. The division is therefore a test, a way to observe whether a creature endowed with the freedom to choose for those aspects of ALLAH's Will (like unjustified violence, corrupting the land, lack of respect for others, gross & rejectable attitudes, etc.) which are not His Wish (for that creature) will stick to what ALLAH knows (of that creature), for indeed ALLAH only does what He knows. 

If somebody goes against the Divine Wish, then the taste of the salt sea will make the person go astray and leave it unprotected. Surely the forces of darkness will encompass it and the final outcome of the process is destruction & damnation. Once the crooked path has been entered, the freedom to choose is hampered and no return is possible (except if ALLAH decides otherwise). But, as some people are the expressions of the Base Names, their infernal terminus is in accord with what they are, namely expressions of the Divine Wish to put upon the face of the Earth humans which are evil and corrupted (like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot etc.) ... For them, the tortures of hell are as natural as the bliss of the inhabitants of the heavens ...

Religious experience, mystical experience & religion are three different answers to the call of the unconditional, i.e. the absolute in all its possible forms of absoluteness (as in number : infinity ; length : limitlessness, time : eternity, knowledge : omniscience & will : omnipotence). Some never notice the call or try in vain to construct an "absolutely" relative model of being. They are either atheists or agnostics. The former fight against any notion of "divinity" (they say : "nothing is absolute" or "there is no Supreme Being"). The latter confess no to know and so leave the matter open (they say : "it is possible that the absolute exists but even so that it does not exist"). 

We must try to understand that universals may act as the deities of old. In this perspective, atheism is impossible, for it entails the worship of univeral ideas proposed by a limited group of people. If the absolute is negated because of some universal, then clearly this idea is actually the "absolute" used to deny the absolute. Hence, atheist logic contains a "contradictio in actu exercito" (a contradiction in the act). How to deny the absolute with the absolute (How to maintain democracy if everything is decided by the majority, also majority-ruling ? What if the majority decides to kill the minority ?). In its humanistic form, atheism is thus forced to wrongly elevate the human to the status of God.

It goes without saying that arabesque logic is highly effective in mystical & poetical discourses intended to arouse religious feelings and point to the basic tenets of mysticism, namely the fundamental unity of the Divine veiled by the infinite multiplicity of Divine Names emanating from the infinite source. As the context of the arabesque is an absolute consensus and never a majority rule alone, it is dangerous to use this kind of logic to organize groups of people (politics & law). Hence, to mirror its vertical features socially (creating a spiritual elite) runs against mystical principle that nobody is or is able to claim to be or represent God (for the finite never grasps the infinite).

Final Remarks :

Allow me to articulate a few final remarks :

1. Muhammad, peace with him, was a genuine mystic. His mysticism being that of the "unity of being", in particular, the unity & oneness of ALLAH, The God, or the One Absolute Divine Being. To affirm the fundamental unity of ALLAH is the hallmark of Muhammadan mysticism.
This "declaration of unity" (or "tawhîd") is the actual affirmation (performance) of two distinct adhesions, each in two parts :

  • say : 'there is no god only The God' or 

    • (a) 'there is no god' ("la ilaha") ;

    • (b) 'only The God is' ("illa-Allâh") ;

  • say : 'and Muhammad is the Prophet of The God' .

As a mystic, he was very "noetic" (cf. "say :"), implying that the aforesaid unity unveiled itself in a cognitive structure, a book with the truth sent by ALLAH to humanity. Muhammadan mysticism shares this feature with other mystics before him, such as Akhenaten, Moses & Jesus. But in the case of Muhammad, this revelatoric form ("word" or elocution) is an answer to the command of Gabriel, the perfect messenger : "Read !" Tradition describes the extraordinary state he was in when a Divine sign "came down" in his heart. And there were many witnesses, believers as well as unbelievers. Some of the latter compared his state with that of the mad poets of old. Nevertheless, the Koran makes a clear distinction between poetry and Divine revelation. 

Muhammad never claimed divinity for himself as had done Akhenaten and the Christians with Jesus, son of Mary. He did not see ALLAH face to face, for His Face is essentially His Alone (i.e. apophatism & radical un-saying). The "noetic" and "revelatoric" nature of Muhammad's mysticism may eclipse the fact that he was truly a mystic of un-knowing (apophasis), for ALLAH knows and we do not. To return everything to ALLAH, is the golden treat enabling the reader to read through the complete text of the Koran several times.

2. Muhammad was a prophet. Not all mystics are prophets, but all prophets are mystics. The revelation brought to Muhammad came to radically reaffirm Divine unity and the fact that the Absolute is all-comprehensive and all-inclusive, excluding all possible associated things next to it. It also claimed to be the final word, because it was the first to include all other possible revelations, which are all from ALLAH. Indeed, the Koran states that no distinction is made between any messenger of ALLAH ! If with Christianity salvic access had become generalized (Judaic circumcision abrogated), with Islam revelation itself was universalized (through the Muhammadan form). 

3. The Koran states that its interpretation is known to ALLAH alone. It distinguishes between a guarded tablet and a book to be recited sent by ALLAH. If during Muhammad's lifetime, collections of the revelations existed, then it is probable that he himself had his own set of chapters in which he arranged the verses which descended in his heart or spiritual recipient. Was this original also 114 chapters long ? Was their order (according to subject-matter and not chronology) also fixed ? Critical scholarship doubts this. In their minds, Muhammad did not order a single book and the work of subsequent redactors was considerable. As no original texts seem to subsist, the argument is undecided. But where are the fragments used by Zaid ? It is probable that Muhammad had his "memory" copy of the "recitation", with its own original arrangement. It is also likely that the later redactions of Zaid are "worked" copies. The rather large number of original codices proves the point. On the other hand, it is also likely that these copies somehow used the original form (scattered around in texts and living memory), of which a part was lost (for the original recitation was larger). By itself, this editorial history is remarkable. Compared with what had happened in Judaism, Buddhism & Christianity, the difficulties are smaller and the final reliable text larger.

4. In which way the historical redactions "worked" the original is hard to tell.
Three layers or registers have been introduced : 

  1. green text : wisdom-teachings involving Divine Unity, spiritual life on earth, in the hereafter and the fundamental principles of Islam ;

  2. orange text : legal matters pertaining to the early historical circumstances of Islam ;

  3. red text : matters which are in direct conflict with the universal declaration on human rights.

It is possible to create subregisters in the (dominant) green text by highlighting verses which are based on or make use of Jewish & Christian themes (black text).

Towards a plain Recital
The Opening & the Cow

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initiated : 23 I 2002 - last update : 15 I 2015 - version n°2